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The Rise And Rise Of The Powerhouse Irish Lightweight Double Sculls

The Rise And Rise Of The Powerhouse Irish Lightweight Double Sculls
John Dodge
By John Dodge
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The greatest trick the O'Donovan brothers ever played was convincing the world they were only a couple of lads from west Cork in a boat powered by schteak and schpuds.

From their opening international year together in 2015, there's always been a plan. Despite being fairly inexperienced at that level, they knew they needed to finish 11th or higher at the 2015 World Championships.

They set out a plan to qualify and they did; they finished 11th and qualified an Irish lightweight double sculls boat to the Olympics for the first time since 2004. It wasn't to be the last time their plans came to fruition.

The following year, they knew they needed more racing experience. They entered the opening world cup round in Varese. They finished in second place less than a quarter of a second behind the South African crew who held the world best time.

In early May they won the European Championships. They knew they needed more though. The world's best crew was from France and they hadn't raced Ireland yet. At the world cup in Lucerne, the French won easily and the Irish finished fourth. The same result happened in the 3rd world cup round.

They needed a plan for Rio.

The opening rounds in Rio were all about conserving energy. It didn't matter what lane they were in as long as they made the final. They knew they had the finishing speed to beat the other crews, they just needed to keep a steady hard pace for longer than they were used to.


Everything was aimed at that final. The famous "pull like a dog" line may have caught the public's attention but these lads had science on their side. Their coach Dominic Casey gave them all the data and Paul's brilliant rowing mind couldn't get enough of it.

In the final they gave themselves every chance of gold and when the time came for their sprint it roared them away from the field with only France ahead of them. The French just about held on but the O'Donovans had won Ireland's first ever medal in rowing. They had announced themselves on the world stage.

Later that summer, Paul won the lightweight single world championship with little or no training since the Olympics. The following year saw Gary injured just before the worlds and again, Paul eased to victory.


Inspired by their success, another pair of brothers from the Skibereen club had started to make their own waves. Fintan and Jake McCarthy were twins and wanted in on the action. They were partnered in the Irish under 23 lightweight boat.


2018 saw the Irish lightweight double sculls finally crowned as the best in the world.  In the final in Plovdiv, they finished nearly 2 seconds ahead of the silver medal winners. It was the first time ever an Irish boat had won gold at an Olympic event in the World Championships.

In the lightweight quads, the McCarthy twins helped that crew to a 5th place finish. Not bad for their first major championship and a sign of Irish strength in depth.


With only one lightweight event at the Tokyo Olympics, Dominic Casey knew tough decisions lay ahead. The O'Donovans and McCarthys knew the score. The two quickest men would be in the boat. They all knew the others' power scores. There could be no secrets.

Gary and Paul were quick to point out that they weren't in the boat because they were brothers, they were in the boat because they were the fastest two.

2019 saw Gary receive a minor arm injury and the McCarthys reach a European final in their first major championships. For the 2019 World championship Fintan McCarthy was partnered with Paul O'Donovan.


The result was the same as 2018 - gold for the Irish lightweight double sculls. Paul had won a gold medal at each of the 4 world championships since the Olympics in Rio. That final in Linz was close. The races since haven't been.

The pandemic allowed Paul to duck away from racing for a year to help his medical studies. Fintan raced the circuit. The plan for him to get more regatta experience was working.

They've only raced two regattas since their World Championship win and they've won every race. Every heat, every semi, every final. They're current World and European champions. The decision to race sparingly was, you've guessed it, part of the plan to win Olympic gold in Tokyo.


On the morning of 29 July 2021, the plan for Irish domination of the lightweight double sculls was complete; Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy won Ireland's first ever rowing gold medal.

Everything Dominic Casey and Irish rowing had done for 6 years was for this moment. Science played a part, steak and spuds played a part and the hard work of a half dozen or more lightweight rowers had played it's part.

Here's to the most dominant Irish sports team of all time - the Olympic, World and European champions Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy. There may even be quicker lads coming down the Skibereen pipeline looking for a place in that boat for Paris.


SEE ALSO: O'Donovan & McCarthy Were As Cool As Ever Despite Making Olympic History

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