There were celebrations overnight in Cork after Skibbereen pair Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy landed Ireland’s first ever Olympic gold in rowing.
At the McCarthy house, Fintan’s parents Tom and Sue spoke of their pride, along with their plans to decorate their home and bake him an Olympic cake to celebrate his return with a gold medal.
Proud father Tom told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that he had “an intuitive feeling” that the rowers would do well.
Sue said the win was “absolutely incredible.” There were no words to describe what she was feeling, she said. “Pride doesn’t cover it.”
“We hoped beyond hope.” The rowers had worked so hard and had been favourites going into the race, it seemed like no one could take them and the family had hoped that would be the case, Sue said.
'Never the sporty type'
Her son had set his sights on this goal a long time ago “and he did it.” “He is totally inspiring,” added his father.
Sister Caitlyn said that when they were children Fintan “was never the sporty type” but when he started rowing “he put his mind to it.”
“I’m very proud of him.” She said that her phone was “hopping all the time” with congratulatory messages. “It’s been insane.”
Fintan’s twin Jake, who is also a rower, recalled watching the Rio Olympics with his brother at which time “a seed of belief was planted in his heart.” Fintan worked “day in, day out” to achieve his goal. Once he overcomes an injury, Jake is hoping that he too can achieve a medal.
Also speaking to Morning Ireland from Tokyo, the gold medallists said they had not had medals in the forefront of their mind.
You don’t really take in the history of the moment. You’d be well tired after the race
McCarthy said the win felt “bizarre”: “It is bizarre, I have been pretty chilled out all day. Usually, I would be a bit more nervous. I felt really prepared and you know how that expectation and stuff doesn't really weigh too heavily on us. We just do what we always do, as best we can and it worked.”
O’Donovan said: “The race plan we had, we do it all the time and it seems to work out okay for us.
“I don’t really think about medals at all. We are just here trying to be the best we can be and hopefully, that will be the best of that for the rest of them. Today it was. We are pleased with it.
“You don’t really take in the history of the moment. You’d be well tired after the race. It feels really good.”
'Shouts could be heard in Cork'
The Skibbereen rowing club where the two began their journey also paid tribute to the club’s two new Olympians.
Chairperson Violet Hayes told Newstalk Breakfast that a number of club members had stayed up all night to watch the race, with their “hearts in our mouths”.
When asked if she had expected the rowers to take gold, Ms Hayes said she did not relax until the “boat hit the line.”
“The shouts could be heard, if not in Dublin, at least in Cork.”
The rowing club, which is 51 years old, was where O'Donovan and McCarthy started their Olympic journey, she said.
They had shown great tenacity and a determination to be the best which came from the club’s “great sense of place and pride.”
An outstanding gold medal for Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy.
Breathtaking victory in the lightweight double sculls - a race that will live long in history.
— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) July 29, 2021
Meanwhile, Ireland’s President and Taoiseach have also congratulated the country’s history-making rowing gold medallists.
Michael D Higgins hailed the Co Cork duo for their “tremendous achievement” in winning the lightweight double sculls in Toyko.
He tweeted: “After the magnificent success in women’s rowing yesterday, today we celebrate Ireland’s first Olympic gold medal in rowing, won so deservedly by Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy in the lightweight double sculls.
“Theirs is a tremendous achievement, which gives great inspiration to young people and aspiring athletes all over Ireland.”
The men's victory came a day after Team Ireland won their first medal of the Olympics when Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty took bronze in the final of women’s rowing fours.
The gold is Ireland’s first since boxer Katie Taylor won in London 2012 and the country’s 10th overall in summer Games.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin also offered his congratulations.
“An outstanding gold medal for Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy,” he tweeted.
“Breathtaking victory in the lightweight double sculls – a race that will live long in history.
“A special day for Irish rowing and the Irish people.”