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World champion O'Donovan brothers tell homecoming rowing is all about 'having fun'

By Olivia Kelleher

Whilst years of arduous training has given the O'Donovan brothers the competitive edge to overcome mental challenges they stress that they always try to inject a bit of fun into everything they do.

The World Championship gold medal-winning rowers, Gary and Paul O'Donovan, told the crowd at a homecoming event at the National Rowing Centre in Co. Cork over the weekend that rowing for them was pure enjoyment.

They claimed that they don't even notice the heavy training because it is part and parcel of life.

Gary said growing up rowing was always about "having fun" for him while Paul was more competitive in his mindset.

Gary said: "He was a bit serious about rowing and training and stuff but I used to go there because my best friends were there and I liked hanging out with them. Now that we are taking it very seriously we always make sure to make a conscious effort to enjoy it and have a bit of fun doing it."

Paul O'Donovan said it was reasonably easy to balance training with "the old social life."

"You spend so long doing it that most of your friends are involved in rowing so when you are going training there is a social aspect to it which is pretty good. We go to college as well during the day so we have different friends there not involved in the rowing.

Meanwhile, when asked by a young child if they had ever been "greeted" by President Michael D Higgins Gary said they had gone to the Aras where they not only met the President but his two amazing dogs who he joked were "bigger than him (the President)."

"We went up to visit him in his house and we met his two dogs. He has the coolest dogs if you ever have a chance to see them. He has two massive dogs. They are like bigger than him."

The children asking the questions were the biggest stars of the show with the rowers getting a major grilling. The probe involved being questioned about whether they drank too much coffee and "what they did for a living outside rowing."

Their success and that of Cork-based Sanita Puspure - who took gold in the women's single scull - as well as Emily Hegarty and Aifric Keogh who took part in their first world championship final as a pair finishing a very credible sixth, was celebrated at the event on Saturday at the centre near Farran Woods.

When asked if she was interested in coaching when she retires, Sanita said she already coaches and finds it enjoyable. She joked to the young crowd that it's easier to train adults than kids because they listen more attentively.

When questioned about what her alternate career would have been, Sanita said she always wanted to be a doctor "but missed that train". She said she would tell her 16-year-old self to be "a bit braver."

The 36-year-old saw off the challenge of World Champion Jeannine Gmelin of Switzerland and Magdalena Lobnig from Austria to claim first place. She is Latvian but lives in Ballincollig, Co Cork.

Puspure puts her improvements this year down to eating more - on the advice of Sharon Madigan, head of performance nutrition at the Sport Ireland Institute.

"The programme changed, I started eating more – eat more and you’ll have more energy to train."

Gary and Paul won gold in the lightweight double sculls at the World Rowing Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. The West Cork man were in an outside lane and wrestled the win from the Italians bursting in to the lead with 500 km of the 2km course to go.

The pair were catapulted into the headlines in 2016 when they won Ireland's first ever Olympic medal in rowing after they came second in the final in Rio. They also earned the hearts of Irish people in the lead up to the Olympic final when they revealed their winning strategy: Close the eyes and pull like a dog.

Paul said their race strategy wasn't complex.

"A to B as fast as you can go and hope for the best. Close the eyes and pull like a dog."

They went to Brazil as relative unknowns but came home household names after their big win and subsequent witty media interviews went viral.

The natives of Lisheen in West Cork even earned a place on the Graham Norton sofa where they were interviewed alongside big names such as Marion Cotillard, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy.

All photos Provision.