NO ONE was surprised when Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy won the World Lightweight Double Sculls title last month, given that the reigning Olympic champions already also had one World (2019) and two European titles (2021/2022) in their locker.

What made it unusual though was their lack of training together this season due to the demands of Paul’s medical studies.

Fintan reckons they only had the equivalent of one full week’s accumulated training before their first heat in Racice, included two days preparation at the European Championships.
So how, in a sport in which synchronicity and cohesion is so vital, did they hit their straps again so quickly?

“We did so much work together before the Olympics that it is still somewhere there in the muscle memory,” Fintan says.

“The focus this year wasn’t necessarily the double. Paul was getting through college so the rest of us, myself, Jake (McCarthy) and Gary (O’Donovan) trained together to try to bridge the gap to Paul. After Paul won the single at a World Cup, it was decided that we would try for the double in the Europeans. When that went well, we said we would train apart and improve individually, while Paul was studying, in preparation for the World Championships. 

“We were working on ourselves, not the boat. We know once we’ve had a few days together that we can figure out how we want to row a race.”

An individual European bronze medallist in 2020, Fintan noticeably competed again as a single sculler this year and was just pipped for gold at the Poznan World Cup in June.

“That was a focal point for my season. I thought I was going really well and then the Kiwi guy came along and beat me.

“We were both only a few seconds outside the world record so I knew I was still going fast but I had to look to see where I could get that couple of more seconds. It really made me take stock.

“After that I took stock and made some necessary changes to my training and technique that helped,” he says, borne out by his subsequent ‘double’ at Nationals, winning the lightweight men’s single and senior single sculls, both for the first time.

He reveals that re-finding their rhythm together is not difficult also because, despite their global dominance, the brilliant Skibbereen duo are constantly questioning and tweaking things like their boat settings.

“Settings are things like how far your feet are towards the stern/ bow or the length of the oars or height of the oarlocks. Other rowers might find it strange that we’re changing things so often but we’ve come to the realisation that your rowing kind of changes slightly every day, depending on how you are feeling and the conditions.

“We have a solid base technique that we adapt slightly to each day. The fundamentals stay the same, but we change the settings to suit the conditions. That means we might change our settings on a daily basis, sometimes even on the way to a warm-up or in a warm-up.”

That almost Socratic approach makes their international rivals scratch their heads sometimes but shows they are a pair with enquiring minds.

Paul is already qualified as a physiotherapist while Fintan, who has a degree in physiology, has just started a Masters in Performance Coaching with Setanta College which he can pursue online while continuing to train amongst Ireland’s HP squad at the National Rowing Centre in Inniscarra.

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