Ireland’s Olympic rowing medallists have returned home from Tokyo.
Cheers greeted gold winners Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy and bronze medallists Fiona Murtagh, Eimear Lambe, Emily Hegarty and Aifric Keogh as they emerged from Dublin Airport on Sunday afternoon.
Restrictions meant only a small gathering of close family members were present as Ireland’s Olympic rowing squad landed back in the country.
The history making women’s four were embraced by loved ones in an outdoor arrivals area while the Skibbereen duo of O’Donovan and McCarthy, who triumphed in the lightweight men’s double sculls, were set to be reunited with families in their native Co Cork later.
The six medallists posed for pictures outside the airport.
Five of them had their medals at hand to show off, with O’Donovan conceding he had left his gold in his bag.
The medical student, who earned a silver medal with brother Gary at the 2016 Rio Games, said he hoped the win in Tokyo would show young sports people in Ireland that anything is possible.
“I think you have to have a strong belief that really it is possible,” he said.
The 27-year-old said he did not feel any different now he was an Olympic champion.
“I’m looking forward now to getting back to college because I’ve been off for a couple of months at this stage, so it’ll be good to catch up with all the lads again and all that,” he said.
“Too much of the rowing and I just get too consumed in it, so it’s good for me as well to take a break. I think it can give me a bit more longevity then in the long run.”
OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS! 🥇
What a morning in Tokyo as Fintan McCarthy & Paul O’Donovan claimed gold to be crowned Olympic champions in a thrilling Lightweight Men’s Double final that saw them cross the line in a time of 6:06.43.
What a day! 🇮🇪💚🥇🇮🇪💚🥇#TeamIreland #Tokyo2020 pic.twitter.com/Gltt8ZcmsR
— Team Ireland (@TeamIreland) July 29, 2021
McCarthy (24) said the exploits of the O’Donovan brothers five years ago inspired him to chase his Olympic dream in Tokyo.
He urged aspiring Irish Olympians not to rush their own journeys.
“We don’t get many opportunities to race so most of what we do is training, so you really do need to enjoy the training and enjoy the journey,” he said.
“I think as well it does take time. So just to not be in any hurry to be doing amazing things straight away – just keep chipping away and enjoy the journey, really.”
The bronze-winning women’s four said they will go their separate ways for the next few weeks to celebrate with family and friends, but raised the prospect of a road trip later in the year so they could celebrate in their respective home towns.
Galway native Murtagh (26) said she was looking forward to some time off.
“I’ll definitely celebrate and spend time with family and friends, it’s been so long since we’ve seen anyone,” she said.
Fellow Galwegian Keogh (29) said it had been frustrating having to keep within a training bubble for so long ahead of the Games.
“I think we’re all just kind of excited to go home and just see some school friends or family friends or, you know, actually just see our families because probably, aside from Christmas, we haven’t seen them only for, you know, maybe the odd weekend here and there,” she said.
'Quite a different Olympic Games'
Hegarty (22) another rowing star from Skibbereen, said the Games had been an amazing experience, regardless of the restrictions.
“Even though there were restrictions in place and it was quite a different Olympic Games from separate years, you know we still soaked it all up,” she said.
“We had nothing to compare it to, this is our first experience of it and it was still massive regardless of whether we had a shorter time in Tokyo or we couldn’t be outside the village – we still enjoyed every minute of it and it will potentially be one of the most amazing experiences of our lives if we never go again.”
Lambe (23) from Dublin, was looking forward to some family time.
“I think we’re all just going to head home to our families now for a week or two and have our own kind of celebrations at home and just catch up with friends and catch up with family,” she said.