Minutes after claiming Ireland’s first medal at the European Championships, a superb silver in the women’s four, rowers Natalie Long, Aifric Keogh, Tara Hanlon and Eimear Lambe clasped hands and leapt into the air alongside the Olympic Regatta Course in Munich.
hey had come home in 6:52.99, just over two seconds behind champions Britain, and almost a second clear of bronze medallists Romania – not bad for a crew that had only been together for a little over a month. Though that’s not to say there wasn’t experience and rich talent in their ranks, given Keogh and Lambe were part of the four that won Olympic bronze in Tokyo last year.
As Long put it: “Tara and myself are brand new to the crew so we are getting used to rowing with Olympic medallists and getting ourselves up to that bar, but we also know that pressure is a privilege. If there is pressure on us then it means we are capable of good things.”
They proved that today. Though they also proved it back in June, winning a medal at the World Cup event in Poznan. Did that mount the pressure on them today?
“Not really, to be honest,” said Lambe. “We knew we were underdogs coming in to it. We knew externally that people saw us as a medal chance but we tried not to think about that. It was just our crew and our focus the whole way.”
As Keogh pointed out, they are renowned as “second-half racers” but they flipped that on its head for the final, “trying something new” and blasting through the opening 500 metres, which they covered faster than any other crew. The second quarter was when the Brits asserted their dominance, hitting halfway with a 2.3-second lead over Ireland, who in turn were just under a second clear of the closest pursuer, The Netherlands.
Ireland hit 1500m in second, 3.63 seconds behind Britain, and more than two seconds clear of Romania, who were beginning their charge for a minor medal. It was time for the Irish to dig in. The quartet emptied whatever energy remained through the final 500 metres, hitting the line exhausted, elated, to win European silver.
Not gold, but to them it felt just as good – their performance proof of the growing depth in Irish women’s rowing, something that was made clear in previous days by the presence of an Irish women’s eight, which had to withdraw from the repechage here due to Sanita Puspure being struck by illness.
“Six years ago, the first ever crew boat for women’s rowing made it to an Olympic final and that was an incredible moment and now we’re in an incredible position where we can field a crew of eight against nations twice, three times our size,” said Lambe. “It’s unbelievable; rowing has really come on in strides, especially since the boys won that medal in Rio.”
And now a new challenge beckons.
The crew has just over a month to prepare for the World Rowing Championships in Racice, Czech Republic, and as Long put it: “Anything is possible, game on.”
Given the nature of the sport, it’s still uncertain the line-up will be exactly the same there. “Tomorrow we could be in different boats,” laughed Lambe. “They kind of keep us on our toes. We all need to be constantly pushing to be our very best. There’s no time in the season to sit back and be comfortable in a seat so there’s a lot of fluidity, anything can change, and that’s good. That’s what keeps us training hard.”
Lambe knows more will be needed to make the podium at global level. “It’ll definitely be a step up for Worlds, and we know we have a lot of room to improve as well so we’re excited,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty finished fourth in the final of the women’s pair, clocking 7:45.13, 10 seconds behind champions Romania and just over five seconds behind the Dutch bronze medallists.
“We gave it a good bash,” said Hegarty, who said a medal had been their target. “We went out harder than we ever had in the pair so it didn’t work out today, but it is definitely something we can work on again in the future.”