The success of the Donegal Bay Rowing Club in taking home All-Ireland medals from the Irish Coastal Rowing Championship in Portmagee in Kerry at the weekend was a huge achievement according to the club's coach, Patrick Brady.
Luke Keaney and Paddy McGlynn defied the odds (and a setback at the start) in the final of the doubles to defeat the best that the top clubs from Cork and Kerry could offer on Sunday.
A day earlier Keaney and Rosie Temple had won bronze in the mixed doubles.
"Really fantastic," was how coach Patrick Brady described it this week.
The sport of rowing is of the minority variety in Donegal but there is a passion there also, which comes through when talking to Brady. However, rowing is part of the culture in west Cork and Kerry and for Donegal rowers to travel there and be successful for the first tie ever is a major breakthrough.
"It is almost six hours drive down to there. We are mostly left to our own devices up here and it is very hard to get competition," says Brady.
"This year we didn't have much opportunity to compete. But in saying that we had nine athletes involved, three doubles, one single and a quad. From the point of view of getting them down there and achieving two national medals really was a significant achievement.
"Their determination and grit and being able to keep with it was really outstanding."
And Brady was really proud of the doubles pairing of Luke Keaney and Paddy McGlynn, having to overcome adversity to succeed.
"The real story in that race was they had a hiccup at the start but they came through the field to actually win by more than two seconds over four kilometres. That requires more than rowing skill, that requires mindset, determination, never-say-die, commitment and team support for each other.
"For a coach, that is one of the most wonderful things. And obviously the rest of the team were thrown in at the deep end. The quad was in against very stiff competition, a lot of Olympic athletes who didn't get to the Olympics this year."
And he feels the weekend will be hugely beneficial to the club: "From the point of getting people out there and blooding them, if that's the word to use, it was more than successful. But obviously if you come home with medals, you are really appreciative of the work they have done."
Brady was particularly impressed with Luke Keaney, coming from a GAA background and not having rowing experience. "He brought a huge contribution in relation to sports nutrition, diet, strength and conditioning, all those things that really stand to rowing in particular.
"He is a very enthusiastic guy. There is no way he will take no for an answer. He is the sort of fellow you want in any team group. He has that can-do attitude. He had a huge medical issue in relation to his career with the GAA. And in some ways that's a life story too with the change. A man who comes from a team with All-Ireland potential to transfer completely into a different sport and work his way up that sport and gets an All-Ireland medal. That's a huge story.
"Himself and Paddy (McGlynn) are great guys. From a coach's point of view they listen to you and then on the day although your nerves are upside down, they go out and do the business."
As a coach Brady has been involved with the Donegal Town club since 2013 when he retired. "It is only in last few years that I've spent more time at it. I would tie in Seamus Maguire, he was the force behind the sport locally, getting grants for equipment, etc. Equipment is the big issue with rowing, very expensive," says Brady, who credits Maguire for much of the success at the weekend.
His passion for the sport goes back to his younger days. "I rowed for six years when in University. I had come from a second level school where I played a little bit of GAA, a bit of hurling down in the midlands of Ireland. When I went to University I was a little bit lost. Because of my height, I was roped in. From then on I never looked back and I spent six wonderful years at UCD."
As for the future he hopes the success will be a stepping stone for the club. He cites Skibbereen, a small place in Cork with world champions. Rowing is the first sport there, ahead of GAA.
"It is huge for any team to stand in their local area and say we are All-Ireland champions," says Brady, who is hopeful that the success will rub off on the youth of the area. "Rowing is one of the few outlets available in the present climate as it is outdoor. Interestingly, the girls are more interested than the boys," he says, and he is extending an open invitation for boys from 14-18 to join the club.
Looking forward, the club is aspiring to competing at European level. But what has really impressed Patrick Brady is the mental attitude of the competitors and he returns again to the impressive display by Keaney and McGlynn in winning an All-Ireland gold medal the hard way.
The Donegal Bay competitors in Kerry were - Luke Keaney, Paddy McGlynn, Rosie Temple, Dawn Wray, Jimmy Meehan, Darragh Doherty, Damien Cleary, Richard Nesbitt and cox Cian Sweeney.
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