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O'Donovan brothers golden moment is just the beginning

By Vince Hogan

Published 15/08/2016

Moment to cherish: Ireland’s Paul and Gary O’Donovan celebrate winning a silver medal with childhood rowing friend Diarmuid O’Driscoll in the Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls Final
Moment to cherish: Ireland’s Paul and Gary O’Donovan celebrate winning a silver medal with childhood rowing friend Diarmuid O’Driscoll in the Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls Final

Morten Espersen's sagacity is a natural firewall against wild optimism, yet he believes he has seen Irish rowing's future in the O'Donovan chuckle brothers.

As the wildest of Friday's giddiness began to abate under Corcovado mountain, the Danish-born High Performance director of the sport here did just about the nearest thing a man of his solemn bearing was ever likely to do, jumping into the lagoon in his clothes.

Smiling broadly, Olsen said that a silver in Rio might be just the start of this story.

"I think they can achieve even more" he predicted of the new Lisheen superstars.

"In Tokyo, they can go for the gold medal."

Without ever having to lift your head, you could trace the movement of Paul and Gary O'Donovan around Stade de Lagoa on Friday by the depth-charges of laughter igniting all around them.

They had the rowing world eating out of their calloused hands.

The chuckle brothers of a conventionally low-watt sport, suddenly, had a global profile.

Even the Huffington Post had taken to celebrating their reflex jollity in the face of a commotion that would have been unimaginable before they flew out to Rio.

Confronted by the world's microphones, Paul and Gary O'Donovan became a kind of stand-up act for Olympia.

But behind the belly-laughs and stories of Skibbereen coach Dominic Casey's patience being stretched like an elastic band resided a story of remarkable physical and mental resilience.

Their father, Teddy, who introduced them to rowing when - as Paul put it on Friday - they were just "schmall boyeens", reflected after their historic silver medal win: "From day one, they didn't want to row, they wanted to race. The first time I took them rowing, I saw that. Different animals altogether once they get into a boat." Irish rowing's first ever Olympic medal win arrived then courtesy of a performance that had been simply luminous with competitive intensity.

And beneath the laughter, Paul (a third year physiotherapy student in UCD) and Gary (a final year marketing student in CIT) - are now determined that their heroics at Stade de Lagoa will prove a launch-pad to even higher climbs not simply a glorious destination. And Espersen believes them.

"I tipped them then for a bronze medal," he revealed. "For me, they always had a very good chance of being medal contenders. But one thing is expecting it, another is to do it and perform. The thing about them is they are fantastic racers and they can step up at all times, whether it's a heat, a semi-final or a final."

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