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Festival of rowing descends on Leeside

Wednesday, 11th July, 2018 4:55pm

Hurling, football, soccer and rugby are all sports that are richly associated with the county of Cork, but recently, there's a new kid in town in the form of rowing.

The acceleration of the popularity of rowing on Leeside is thanks, in no small part, to the O'Donovan brothers, Gary and Paul, who captured the hearts of the nation with their silver medal win at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Success has been an upward curve since then - Mark O'Donovan and Shane O'Driscoll won gold at the European Rowing Championships last summer alongside the O'Donovan brothers who also struck gold, while Denise Walsh won a silver medal at the same championships.

With the National Rowing Centre based in Cork, it's little wonder that the sport has such popularity down here, and this weekend the centre is set to host the 2018 Irish Rowing Championships, the highlight of the Irish rowing calendar.

The big names will be there, of course, but so too will the up and coming stars such as Ellie O'Reilly and Gill McGirr, a Fermoy pair who compete at junior level. The duo are tipped by many as future stars for Ireland after their gold medal win at the Coupe de la Jeunesse in Belgium last year and Ellie says they are looking forward to a hectic summer ahead.

“We're both really looking forward to this weekend's event, it's ahead of the World Junior Championships which we'll be competing at in August in the Czech Republic. That's our first time appearing at the Worlds so that's huge for us.

“We're not really sure of the playing field there yet, as it's a totally new experience for us but this weekend is great preparation for that.”

This year's regatta will be the biggest rowing event ever to take place in Ireland with more than 1,600 athletes competing in 1,127 crews from all four provinces. It will also be the first event in Rowing Ireland’s inaugural international Festival of Rowing, which includes the Home Internationals Regatta between Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales on 21 July and the prestigious Coupe de la Jeunesse regatta from 27-29 July which will bring junior rowers from 14 European countries to Cork.

Both students at Loreto, Fermoy, 18 year old Ellie just completed her Leaving Certificate while 17 year old Gill will sit hers next summer.

Despite a grueling year of studies behind her, Ellie certainly hasn't taken the foot off the pedal in terms of her hectic schedule. Both herself and Gill train twice a day starting at 8am for two and a half hours, with a break for rest and replenishment between, before heading out on the water again for another few hours, finishing up each day at 6pm.

That's Ellie and Gill's life six days a week, every week, with one day off for rest. The hard work, Ellie says, isn't the competing but the training for months on end beforehand.

“We travel to centre at Farran Woods every day from Fermoy; our parents bring and take us so it's a huge help to have their support. This week isn't as heavy duty in the lead-up to the championships at the weekend. The training is a slog at times, definitely! Having said that, the buzz of competing is more than worth it, it's hard to describe but I absolutely love it. You reap what you sow.”

The pair are based at Fermoy Rowing Club and as Ellie humbly puts it they “were the last two standing who were still taking it very seriously” which led to their representation of Ireland.

“My older brother got me interested in rowing,” says Ellie. “I started it when I was 12 but it was a few years later that I actually started taking it seriously.”

The result of that? A gold medal at last year's Junior European Championships and much more to come from the talented pair.

“That was huge when we won the gold last year but the worlds in August represent a whole new ball game. The standard is so high but we cannot wait, I definitely get nervous but as soon as you start racing, that goes.”

As for the uptake in rowing since the O'Donovan's Olympic success, Ellie says it's a story like theirs that pushes the likes of herself and Gill to do so well.

“When you see what they did; they literally just went out, trained as hard as they could and did not give up until they were among the best in the world. It's crazy to think that they went from where they were to winning silver then and that it can happen for you if you put the work in. We all train together at the centre and we're always trying to out-do each other, it's certainly competitive,” she says with a laugh.

Competitive and rowing certainly seem to be two words that are hand in hand for this talented group of rowers on Leeside.

As for the girl's coach, Ray Martin is also a member of Fermoy Rowing Club and has been working with the girls for three years. His tremendous input to their coaching, and in turn their success, is no small coincidence. Martin, as Ellie puts it, “deserves a huge chunk of the plaudits”.

The 2018 Irish Rowing Championships taking place at the National Rowing Centre in Farran Wood from 13-15 July, and with the hot temperatures set to continue, a festival of rowing is set to be served up in serious style.

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