THERE’S no doubt that most - if not all - the young athletes growing up in Cork at the moment, particularly in the rowing stronghold to the west of the county, view Paul O’Donovan as an inspiration.
But that’s not necessarily the way he sees it.
“Inspiration is kind of a big word there to use,” he laughs.
Alongside his brother Gary, Paul finished second in the lightweight double sculls at the Rio Games in 2016 to secure Ireland’s first-ever Olympic medal in rowing.
The Skibbereen native is also a four-time World Championship gold medallist and admits he is currently being kept ‘on his toes’ by they talented athletes currently coming through the ranks on Leeside.
“I’m just a little bit older and have a little bit more experience,” he adds, modestly. “But you can see by all of them, I’m training in town here a lot of the time when I was in college, and they’re out there doing their work on their own.
“They know themselves what they’re doing and the coaches at the rowing centre know what they’re doing as well.
“Even if I wasn’t there, by this stage they would have the knowledge and the experience and the drive to do everything.
It’s motivating me to see their enthusiasm coming through, just their drive and their ambition to try and go out there to make a name for themselves keeps us older people on our toes which is all positive.
“I think across all classes there is some depth and competition for places and this fund will help all them.”
The fund the 26-year-old is alluding to is the €50,000 that has been set aside as part of the FBD Insurance ‘Make A Difference’ programme that will assist Ireland’s Olympic hopefuls in their preparation for the Games set to take place in Tokyo this summer.
Fellow Cork natives Phil Healy, Meg Ryan, Aoife Casey, Margaret Cremen and Lydia Heaphy are just a few of the names that will be the recipients of this financial support.
Speaking at the official announcement O’Donovan, who is an ambassador for the initiative, is hopeful the Olympics will go ahead as planned and he is preparing in the National Rowing Centre in Cork accordingly as he looks to seal his own place in the Ireland boat. “For us athletes, all we can do is listen to what they’re saying. Thomas Bach (President of the International Olympic Committee) and the Prime Minister in Japan are saying they’re planning to go ahead with the Games,” he added.
“So as long as they’re saying that we have to plan to do the same. We just have to do that for the time being and see what happens.
“The weather has been reasonably nice the past few months in that it’s been quite calm, especially in the mornings.
“We’ve been able to get out in the boat a lot whereas sometimes at this time of the year it’s a bit windy and too choppy on the water to do any productive rowing, so you spend a lot of time indoors.
“Some people assume that I’m in the boat and I have to think about being in peak shape in the last week of July for the Games but selection for the boat is really early.
“The boys are in better shape than they’ve ever been so it’s going to be really competitive to make the boat.”
Whatever happens this summer, the Paris Olympics in 2024 will more than likely give O’Donovan another opportunity to inspire the next generation although his career in medicine - he recently decided to take a break from his studies which included shifts in the Cork University Hospital - may firmly come into focus by then.
“I’m kinda the old man here now with all these younger guys that FBD are beginning to support coming up. I’m not that old yet,” he insisted. “Certainly, I’ll aim for 2024 and after that, I suppose we’ll have to see how things are going with the career as well.
“I have to keep at the job as well because they don’t like you taking too much time off with that.
“After that, it will come down to a balancing act between the two to see how much training I can manage. There is time enough to be thinking about that yet.
“There’s no panic to make any decisions yet so we will see. Time will tell.”