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Gold fever strikes small town of Skibbereen as pair row to glory

Olympic medal heroes are the pride of Co Cork

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Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan celebrate with their gold medals after winning the Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls final in Tokyo. Credit: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan celebrate with their gold medals after winning the Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls final in Tokyo. Credit: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Getty Images

Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan on their way to victory. Credit: Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan on their way to victory. Credit: Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Getty Images

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Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan celebrate with their gold medals after winning the Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls final in Tokyo. Credit: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Skibbereen is celebrating the dawn of a golden sporting era. The small west Cork town now ranks as a true global Olympic powerhouse.

The town boasts an Olympic medal for every 600 residents. Athletes from The little Irish Rowing Club (SRC) have now accounted for half of Ireland's medal haul so far from the Tokyo 2020 Games – three out of six medals.

The club medal haul from Tokyo alone is equivalent to one medal per 900 local residents in the west town, which has a population of just 2,700.

Skibbereen Rowing Club even has a greater rowing medal total from Tokyo 2020 than Team GB. Locals are now preparing to welcome home their Olympic heroes bronze medallist Emily Hegarty and gold medalists Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy, as well as the double sculls reserve rower, Gary O'Donovan.

For Trish O'Donovan mother of Paul and Gary her native parish of Lisheen went en fete to mark the historic achievement of only the tenth gold medal won in Irish Olympic history.

Ms O’Donovan flanked by family members at her Lisheen home admitted she was exhausted having stayed up all night to cheer for an Irish win.

"He (Paul) was always my golden boy,” she said. “From the day he was born, he was special. Gary too. I always think when you grow up in the country you have a different rearing than in the city they were wild but they were country boys.

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"They went out, they played until dark and made fun swinging off trees they were like monkeys.

"Paul, you devil you, fair play to you — you did it. And fair play to Fintan too. They are good, sound boys.

"Paul was just not going to stop — no one was going to stop them getting gold. It is never a given until they pass the line but they worked so hard for it," she added.

"Way back when Paul and Gary were in primary school, they wrote into their copy books that they were going to the Olympics in 2012. It was written there. I still have the copy book but don't ask me to find it."

Ms O’Donovan said the only negative was not being able to travel to Japan to see the gold medal-winning performance in person.

"It was very disappointing not to be able to go — I am still gutted about it. But what can you do?"

Fintan McCarthy's family also expressed delight at his achievement.

Tom and Sue McCarthy, alongside Fintan's siblings, twin brother Jake and sister Caitlin, watched the final from their Skibbereen home in the early hours of this morning.

"Proud just isn't a big enough word — it was an incredible achievement. We are all over the moon," Sue said.

She admitted the tension was unbearable as the Irish duo fought a titanic battle with the German rowers for the gold medal, winning by half a boat length.

"We always believed they could do it, their time in the semi-final was absolutely astonishing. But the tension during the final was incredible. I think it was 6am when we all finally got to sleep."

Tom said they had been in contact with Fintan, via text messages, after the historic win. However, his phone had broken with the sheer volume of texts and calls he received.

"We are just looking forward to getting him home. And maybe getting to hold that Olympic gold medal in our hands."

The family have already been discussing the best place in their idyllic farmhouse to place the gold medal.

Fintan's sister, Caitlin, said everyone has been overwhelmed by the reaction to the duo's performances in Tokyo.

"The phone hasn't stopped ringing — friends, schoolmates and neighbours have been ringing with their congratulations. The excitement is unreal."

She joked that Fintan wasn't overly sporting as a youngster.

"He used to run away from the ball when it was thrown at him, he was that kind of kid," she said.

Jake vowed they would all "keep him (Fintan) humble when he gets home".


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