Haul of five golds confirms Ireland’s rising standards
From four boats in Coupe de la Jeunesse, Ireland finished third in the medal table
The rising standard of Irish rowing was confirmed at the weekend as Ireland won five gold medals at the Coupe de la Jeunesse in Belgium.
The rightly-celebrated senior rowers have stepped on to podiums at every major event this season, and this time it was the turn of the juniors. The Coupe, with 13 nations from around Europe competing, is a hotly contested tournament below the level of the World Championships.
Ireland, with just four boats, placed third in the medal table. France were second and Britain topped the rankings – but they competed in all 13 classes. The broad base may not be there, but when Ireland crews compete they contend for medals.
The junior quadruple of Barry O’Flynn (Cork), Matt Dundon (Clonmel), Jack Keating (Carlow) and James Quinlan (Castleconnell) won gold on both days, a feat matched by the women’s pair of Gill McGirr and Ellie O’Reilly (both from Fermoy).
Georgia O’Brien of Kenmare took gold on Saturday and placed fourth on Sunday. All four Ireland crews qualified for A Finals on the Saturday and Sunday and the Ireland men’s four were the one crew to be out of the medals.
Next up for Ireland is the World Junior Championships, which start on Wednesday: Ao- ife Casey and Margaret Cremen will represent Ireland. Reaching this level is also the project – in 2018 – of the next wave, including O’Reilly, McGirr and Keating.
As the Carlow man tells it, the genesis of the quad’s run came when he and Dundon got together months ago and set this very target: two gold medals at the Coupe. The crew formed and were “fierce determined” to win.
There was an all-out effort in the final race, where Italy came fast at the end but could not catch them.
O’Reilly and McGirr had more than six seconds to spare over Italy in their win yesterday. A comfortable win? “It got kinda comfortable at the 1k mark,” O’Reilly said. The start is not their strongest point and the wind made it messier. But in recent years Ireland crews are big believers in strength through the middle of the race, and this crew did the same and won well. McGirr is just 16.
If youth brings its benefits, so does experience. Georgia O’Brien’s coach, Noel Casey, lived for years in Britain and coached the British women’s eight at the Los Angeles Olympics. He is 84 years old.
Eliza O’Reilly and Gill McGirr prepare to receive their gold medals at the Coupe de la Jeunesse in Hazewinkel.