SKIBBEREEN'S Paul O’Donovan had jested beforehand that winning the Henley Regatta, not the Tokyo Olympics, was what the year was really all about for himself and Fintan McCarthy.
Modest exaggeration aside, the Cork pair produced another super-serene rowing performance to win the final of the Double Sculls Challenge Cup, and with that land O’Donovan and McCarthy the one prize which had been missing from their ever-expanding trophy cabinet.
Like their Olympic gold medal performance in Tokyo just over two weeks ago they were made to work for it too, the British heavyweight pair of Matthew Haywood and Samuel Meijer, who won gold in the quadruple sculls at the World Under-23 Championship back in July, taking an early lead down along the unique nuances of the 2,112-metre course at Henley-on-Thames.
A two boat final, a straight head-to-head, O’Donovan and McCarthy drew level inside the second quarter before pulling clear with another remarkable display of strength and spirit on the water, winning by just over a boat length.
“Yeah, as we’ve been banging on about all week, this is the highlights of our season,” said O’Donovan, who had lost this final in 2018 in his only other Henley appearance, rowing with older brother Gary on that occasion.
🗣️ "We will see you again?"— Henley Royal Regatta (@HenleyRegatta) August 15, 2021
🗣️ "We'll come back as often as you'll have us!"
Fintan McCarthy and @PaulO_Donovan confirm in their post-race interview with @lauracwinter that they'll be back at #HenleyRoyalRegatta.#HRR21 pic.twitter.com/r16EOHT8ML
“I think we peaked on the day, fortunately. We’ve had some tough racing all week, good competition and standard here at Henley, which is why we like to come here.”
First staged in 1839, it was McCarthy’s first trip to the famous royal regatta, the win here also proving the perfect accompaniment to his Olympic gold.
“I was thinking back this morning the last few weeks have been unreal, obviously we won the Olympics, and to come here and win now is the cherry on top. It’s been a really good few weeks and I think we’re pretty happy.”
The fourth race after the luncheon interval, one of the 26 in all on Finals Day, O’Donovan’s brother Gary had also been on the water in the morning session, representing UCC Rowing Club and joining the Skibbereen trio of Ronan Byrne, Daire Lynch and Philip Doyle, only they lost out in the Queen Mother Challenge Cup to the local boat from Leander rowing.
For O’Donovan the Henley win clearly did mean a lot, also adding to his position as one of the most decorated people in Irish sport right now, with Olympic gold and silver, four World gold medals, and two European gold.