Morgan Treacy/INPHO
tokyo 2020

Homecoming celebrations for Skibbereen's Olympic medalists to be low-key

Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy are due home to Ireland tomorrow.

IT IS A case of “wait and see” in relation to homecoming celebrations in Skibbereen, Co Cork for Tokyo rowing gold medallists Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy and bronze medallist Emily Hegarty as Covid puts a dampener on the usual festivities which surround Olympic wins.

Sue McCarthy, mother of Fintan, says “everyone will do whatever they can” to congratulate the rowers within the confines of the Covid safety regulations.

“Obviously at the moment restrictions prevent doing anything huge but we will see what we can do and we will do the best we possibly can. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

The families of the rowers have been separated from their loved ones for several months at this point as the athletes attended a training camp prior to the fortnight in Toyko.

Paul and Fintan scooped the gold medal in the 1.45am race in the lightweight double sculls in Tokyo on Thursday and are expected to return to Ireland tomorrow. 

Emily Hegarty, who is also a member of Skibbereen Rowing Club and lives in the same parish as the gold medallists, won a bronze medals in the women’s coxless four race just 24 hours before her male counterparts took to the water.

In 2016 following the Rio Olympics then silver medallists Gary and Paul O’Donovan received a rapturous reception when they flew in to Cork Airport. More than 10,000 people thronged the streets of Skibbereen to welcome the duo back home.

aifric-keogh-eimear-lambe-fiona-murtagh-and-emily-hegarty-celebrate-with-their-bronze-medals (R to L) Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty celebrate with their bronze medals Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

gary-and-paul-odonovan-homecoming-skibbereen Paul and Gary (right) O'Donovan wave to the crowd during a homecoming parade in Skibbereen, 2016 PA PA

Meanwhile, Ireland looks set to become accustomed to Olympic success emanating from  in West Cork as officials say they have more up and coming rowers who will in all likelihood add to the medal roster in the coming years.

Tokyo Gold medallists Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy are members of the club as is bronze medallist Emily Hegarty.

TJ Ryan, Secretary of Skibbereen Rowing Club, says they hope to have similar achievements in the future with young rowers who are learning their skills under coach Dominic Casey.

What has happened is amazing. We have potential athletes here. We have one in the under 23 squad, and we have had two selected in the past week for the Irish junior squad so the pathways following through are there. There are loads of kids starting.

“There is a big gang out on the water there. The future is bright. We just have to keep the facilities and equipment in place to keep these athletes going forward.”

Ryan says it is a case of “playing it by ear” to see what can be done to congratulate their rowers.

The coach at the club, Dominic Casey, was chosen as the Coach of the Year at the World Rowing Championships in 2018 having been a force in the sport for decades.

He has guided Gary and Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy to Olympic and World Championship wins and has been nominated for World Rowing Coach of the year on several occasions.

Sean O’Brien, Captain of the Club, says that Dominic Casey is a force to be reckoned with in terms of training local rowers.

“We have a decent boat house and that took a lot of hard work. The one crucial thing is Dominic Casey. He is the main difference between Skibbereen Rowing and other rowing clubs. Others are good don’t get me wrong but Dominic is great. He always had ideas before other people. And I would give it [all the credit] to Dominic Casey.”

Congratulatory messages continue to pour in for the rowers. Fintan Gavin, Bishop of Cork and Ross, has written to Paul O’Donovan, Fintan McCarthy and Emily Hegarty thanking them for lifting the spirits of the Irish people during the pandemic. All three are from Aughadown Parish which is near Skibbereen.

Bishop Gavin also extends his congratulations to their families and to Skibbereen Rowing Club and UCC Rowing Club for the part they have played in this success.

“We read in the Gospels how the Lord and His disciples often ventured onto the Sea of Galilee in their boats. Often times while seated in one of the boats, Jesus brought a message of hope and joy to those who listened. You have also brought us great joy from your boats in Tokyo through your dedication to your sport and your year-round commitment,” said Bishop Gavin. 

“Especially in this year when so many people have faced challenges from the pandemic, we are all grateful for the light you have splashed in our direction with your oars and your spirit. Wishing you congratulations and every blessing!”

Olivia Kelleher
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