CORK’S Emily Hegarty is an Olympic medallist and for her fantastic efforts at the Tokyo Olympics, she is also an Echo Women In Sport award winner.
Emily is being honoured with one of the quarterly awards and being celebrated for her achievements in Japan as part of the women’s four, who brought home Irish rowing’s first women’s Olympic medal.
Emily is the toast of the County Cork town of Skibbereen, her home town, and throughout the Rebel County and Ireland, after storming to a bronze medal win for Ireland in the women’s four, a crew that she stroked to their Tokyo Olympics medal.
It was one of the best days ever of Irish rowing, as we celebrated another fantastic achievement on the water. And a huge day of pride for Skibbereen Rowing Club, who now celebrate another club Olympian, and Olympic medallist.
The bronze medal win by Emily, along with Aifric Keogh, Fiona Murtagh and Eimear Lambe, remains a mighty day for Irish rowing, and Team Ireland, and was watched with excitement all across Cork, Ireland and the world.
During the early hours of the morning, we watched as the Skibbereen’s star stroked Ireland’s women’s four to a superb Tokyo 2020 Olympics bronze medal, having fought a hard battle to storm back from fifth spot to clinch the bronze in fine style.
It was a thriller, with Ireland in fifth as they passed the half-way mark. Known for a strong finish, they then turned on the power, passed China and set about chasing down Team GB, who they passed in the closing stages to take bronze.
In doing so they made history by becoming the first female athletes to win an Olympic medal in rowing for Ireland.
Favourites Australia took gold with Netherlands taking silver.
Speaking after the race, the thrilled Irish crew described the strategies they worked with: “The race was a blur really, it went by so fast. It wasn’t the best race, but we always say we want to be the best on our worst day too, and we pulled that off.”
A delighted Emily Hegarty took her place alongside the achievements of Paul and Gary O’Donovan at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
“It’s really exciting that only five years later there’s a women’s crews medal (and a heavyweight medal) and it’s really really exciting for all the youngsters in Skibb coming up, that there’s no limits.
Five years ago I definitely didn’t think that I’d be here with an Olympic medal around my neck, but it’s definitely going to give a massive boost to home, and give all those young girls coming up a bit of belief, boys and girls.”
She added: “It’s a really really great team to be part of, everybody backed each other, and everyone has been pushing each other on, it’s a really competitive environment we have for ourselves, so that’s how I think we got the most out of our training, our crews, just always trying to get the best out of each other.”
Speaking about being not only an Olympian but a bronze medal Olympian, Emily said “it’s still a bit hard to believe to be honest, but it’s really exciting to be part of.”
And it’s just such a pity that we didn’t get to show Emily and her teammates just what this medal means to Cork and Ireland.
Because of the pandemic, the return to Cork and Skibbereen had to be a low-key one, so there was no opportunity to gather and watch as Emily was paraded through the town on an open-top bus, just as Gary and Paul O’Donovan had been when they won silver at Rio Olympics in 2016.
And Emily was there watching that, along with thousands of others.
And that homecoming day will live long in the memory.
Instead for Emily and her crewmates, it was a more sedate welcome home, and it’s such a pity as she and they deserved a day to live in the memory. Yet they do have a day that will live long in their memories, of the day they took bronze for Ireland at the Olympics, and queue the celebrations at home and abroad.
And the bronze medal achievement only got the party started, as Paul O’Donovan (Skibbereen and UCC) and Fintan McCarthy of Skibbereen would go on to win Ireland’s first-ever Olympic gold for rowing in double sculls.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: “The whole country is so proud of our Olympic rowing team following their historic achievements at the Tokyo games.”
Her rise to the top of Irish rowing won’t surprise many.
The Skibbereen star has been achieving in rowing for many years since joining Skibbereen Rowing Club as an 11-year-old.
Of course, she will have been inspired by coach Dominic Casey and the other members of the coaching staff at Skibbereen, and Ireland, and it’s not the first time that she has been honoured with an Echo Women In Sport award.
Emily still relives the moment when they crossed the line to Olympic bronze. “The initial buzz was something else, it was overwhelming,” says Emily, “and then it began to dawn on us what we had achieved.”
And she slowly became aware of what it was stirring at home in Ireland and at home in Skibbereen.
“We began to hear that so many people had watched it during the night at home,” added Emily, “and we were delighted to hear that.”
And she soon heard from home, where people had been coming by outside the family garden to celebrate Emily’s achievement with her family while observing social distancing.
“My family watched, neighbours watched, so many at home watched, I was delighted.”
Crossing the line was a pinch-herself moment, but she soon reflected on those who helped her all along the way. “My family have been incredible,” says Emily. “They are a great support.” And she is also so grateful to all those have helped her on their journey to Olympic glory.
“After we got the bronze medal result we realised just how many people had helped us along the way.”
While Emily could not enjoy an open-top bus parade through Cork and Skibbereen, due to the pandemic, she did nonetheless enjoy a few weeks back at home in Skibbereen when she returned from Tokyo, where she found that “people were super nice about it”.
And it hasn’t gone to her head. Emily keeps a low profile and is now back at college and back at training.
But she already has her eyes on Paris Olympics in 2024.
“It would be silly of me, being so close to the National Rowing Centre, to not give it a go.”
It’s a blank canvas again with all to play for, and Emily will be pushing for a place in a boat destined for Paris.