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The O'Donovan brothers have committed their lives to rowing and it could all pay off in 2016

Could Paul and Gary have their drive rewarded this August?

BEFORE MAY THIS year, few people may have heard of Paul and Gary O’Donovan, but that all changed when they took home gold in the lightweight double sculls at the European Rowing Championships.

But as they head into an Olympic year with a real possibility of a medal, where did their drive for success come from?

As is often the case, rowing turns out to be the family business.

Born in Lisheen near Skibbereen in west Cork, the brothers’ grá for the sport began around 2001 when younger brother Paul was aged seven and Gary was aged nine. Their father Teddy had a keen rower and brought them to Skibbereen Rowing Club.

It helped that their best friends – Shane and Diarmuid O’Driscoll (no relation) — also started at the same time and the quartet rowed together for years.

The brothers found they had a natural talent for the sport and were selected for the Irish junior team at the Home International Regatta in 2008. Paul has made every Irish team since and has rowed at junior, U23 and senior World Championships in the single sculls.

His best moment as an individual came at the 2013 U23 World Championships when he finished stronger than anyone in the men’s lightweight sculls to claim the bronze medal for Ireland.

While most of the pairs they’ll face in Rio have been together since London 2012 or even before, the O’Donovan brothers are relative newcomers, only taking up lightweight double sculls in 2014 when an 11th place finish at that year’s World Championships secured Olympic qualification.


Despite studying in UCD to become a physiotherapist, Paul still spends most of his time in Cork where he trains under Dominic Casey, the head coach of Skibbereen Rowing Club.

To commit as much time as possible to rowing, Paul has split his third year in UCD into two years and now lives with Gary in their grandmother’s house in Ballincollig so they can also remain close to Ireland’s National Rowing Centre in Farran Woods.

They don’t do all their rowing in Cork, however, and Seville provides a home from home for winter training, though it doesn’t always mean ‘warm weather’.

Source: Nissan Ireland/YouTube

On top of the European gold, the O’Donovan brothers also have three top-five places in World Cup events in the past year, putting them very much in the conversation when it comes to an Olympic final in Rio.

To maximise their chances, a day in the life of the pair usually starts with them on the water at 8am for two hours of pure rowing at a controlled pace. Depending on the day in question, this is followed by either a nap or study.

The afternoon brings another two hours of interval training on the water at either high-intensity or race pace and then an hour in the gym while Paul can be found most nights watching YouTube videos of races to find an edge on their opponents.

But all that hard work is paying off.

In the space of 12 months the O’Donovan brothers have gone from fighting for places in a final to fighting for a spot on the podium.

Given their success over such a relatively short period of time, few would bet against them challenging for a medal in Brazil.

Paul O’Donovan is a Nissan ambassador and now four rising stars of Irish sport have been named among the 20 finalists who are currently competing in a public vote to secure one of ten coveted places on the Nissan Generation Next ambassador programme.

Each ambassador will receive a brand new, taxed and insured Nissan to drive for a year as Ireland’s new generation of leaders and champions.

To learn more about the Nissan Generation Next ambassador programme and the sports finalists — Sophie Spence (Rugby), Shane Carthy (GAA), Cathal Daniels (Horse Riding) and Gearoid McDaid (Surfing) — and to vote, click below before 28 June.

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