Talented twins Fintan and Jake McCarthy recently represented the Ireland rowing team in action at the World U23 Rowing Championships in Poznan. The twins who hail from Aughadown finished in fifth place in the A final of the lightweight double sculls, which represented a great achievement for the Skibbereen Rowing Club members. John Bohane caught up with the ace duo who are busy preparing for the Senior World Championships scheduled to be held in Bulgaria later this month.
Fintan and Jake McCarthy have blossomed in the sport since they began rowing at the relatively late age of 15. “I joined Skibbereen Rowing Club when I was 15, which was late compared to most other members in the club,” says Fintan. “Jake used to play other sports like soccer and GAA, so he didn’t join until about a year after me. I was really bad at all the usual sports, so I just wanted to try out something different. Jake started then just as a way of keeping fit for his other sports during the off-season but he ended up getting hooked.”
Fintan admits to being skeptical at first about taking up rowing, however once his competitive juices kicked in, he was naturally hooked as he recalls. “At first I wasn’t sure about it, but I enjoyed training, feeling fit and being able to see my improvement, as there aren’t many sports where you can measure how much fitter or faster you’re getting. Especially with rowing, you really get out what you put in. When I started racing was when I really started to enjoy it. I started off in the first few years without achieving many wins but gradually improved with each race, which made it nearly addictive, trying to get better for the next race all the time.”
The twins, 21, are both studying in UCC. Fintan is studying Physiology while Jake is studying Economics. They have brilliantly balanced their training and academic commitments thus far. Jake is fiercely proud of their West Cork roots, which has produced a plethora of talented sports stars in recent years. “We are from Aughadown, a small parish a few miles outside Skibbereen. The city is very hectic so it’s nice to come home every weekend to relax. Training and studying can be tough but luckily I was able to split my year this year, meaning I am taking half the modules for two years. It makes life a bit easier, but you still need to find a balance.”
Jake was thrilled with their displays in the boat for both club and country to date this season. “I am happy enough with how the season has gone so far. We both won two national titles for the club and finished fifth in the U23 World Championships in the Olympic class boat of the lightweight double. We had hoped for a medal, but it didn’t work out on the day. We have the Senior World Championships later this month in the lightweight quad with two other lads from UCD and Portora so we hope to perform well there also.”
The undoubted highlight of their rowing season thus far this season occurred when they won their heat at the World U23 Rowing Championships following a barnstorming performance. Their sensational display firmly put down a marker that the McCarthy brothers were serious contenders for medals on both the European and World stage going forward as Jake revealed. “The highlight was definitely winning the heat of our World Championships against the Italian world champions from last year. We were confident we had speed in the build up from training, but you never know until you race your competitors. It gave us the reassurance we needed to know we were one of the top boats contesting.”
Skibbereen Rowing Club has produced a number of top class competitors who have captured numerous medals on both the European and World stage down through the years. Fintan agrees they are driven by the success their Skibbereen RC predecessors and their current teammates have enjoyed. The success their friends have enjoyed adds further fuel to their desire to succeed on the international stage. “The success of Gary and Paul O’Donovan at the last Olympics, as well as the great success enjoyed by both Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan in the pair and Denise Walsh too has been great to watch over the last few years. It is nice knowing they got where they are and they are seeing good results by training in a similar way to how we train. We are surrounded by a winning mentality in Skibbereen Rowing Club, which has produced so many great champions. It does motivate you and kind of reassure you that you’re on the right track at least.”
Fintan is greatly appreciative of the great work undertaken by the volunteers within Skibbereen Rowing Club. Their committee members and coaches have invested a lot of time in instilling a winning mentality within all the rowers at the famed sports club. Fintan firmly believes the secret to their great success lies with the great people associated with Skibbereen Rowing Club. “The coaches in Skibb are doing a great job at the moment, which can been seen in the results. We had seven championship wins this year and loads at J15 and J16 level too, as well some international medals at the Home International Regatta and Coupe de la Jeunesse. I think the people are the main ingredient to the club’s success, the coaches, parents, athletes, committee members and everyone really, there is a great unity across the whole club. So many people dedicate their time to making the club better and everyone is genuinely so willing to help and support one other. At regattas especially there is such a good buzz around the Skibbereen tent and good banter between everyone – juniors/seniors, boys/girls, coaches and supporters/athletes, which adds to the enjoyment, just making it fun to race and even better when you do well as it feels like you’re doing your bit for the club and giving back to everyone for their efforts by making them proud.”
Jake is indebted to the great Dominic Casey who has invested so much of his time in helping produce champions both at home and abroad. He is honoured to represent Skibbereen RC every time he gets into the boat. “Dominic has a unique way of coaching, as he understands his athletes and trusts them with what they feel is best, whilst guiding us with a top class training program and technical advice. There is a lot of work behind the scenes that goes unheard of, which is critical in helping the athletes achieve success. The community including the coaches, the parents, the volunteers provide immense support which help the club continue to strive year on year. We have been lucky to receive some financial support from the Skibbereen Credit Union, which has helped us afford the costs of funding ourselves for the World Championships.”
Jake and Fintan have trained relentlessly this season and are delighted with the progress they are making. They recently broke the course record in Inniscarra after cruising to success in the senior quad scull along with Kealan Mannix and Aodhan Burns. Jake is delighted with their progress. “We broke the record by eight seconds, which was quite a margin in a quad. It was great to win a prize for the club with the lads especially as it was Kealan’s first national title. The feeling is ideal. We are improving each year. We are improving both physiologically and technically each year, but also learning a lot more about the sport as a whole from new experiences. I always try and experiment with different aspects of training to test what makes the boat go faster.”
The rowing stars are currently based at a training camp in Banyoles, which is located in Spain. They are preparing intently for the forthcoming Senior World Championships. Fintan can’t wait to sample the intense competition, which will be served up in the heat of Bulgaria. “It will be our first senior worlds so we are both really excited for the step up in competition and to race with the hugely successful Irish senior squad.”
Rowing is widely regarded as one of the toughest sports to pursue. It requires both mental and physical dedication, as athletes strive for championship glory. Attention-to-detail is crucial and any minute advantage an athlete can find will be used to gain the upperhand on an opponent. Fintan loves the psychology, which exits in the sport. “I think being patient and hard working are important. It takes time especially when you’re at a high level to see even small improvements, so it is just a case of plugging away at it the whole time and not getting too bogged down if things aren’t always going right.”
The McCarthy twins are great friends, both on and off the boat. The two brothers, mainly due to their fiercely competitive nature, admit to becoming embroiled in the odd argument, as they seek to get the best out of each other. “We do get on, but there is a lot of arguing too, definitely more than in a normal team, but nothing gets taken too personally. It is nice to race with your brother too, as you can be sure both of you are always on the same page and we definitely get the best out of each other,” says Fintan.
Jake agrees with his brother’s analysis of their relationship, which has taken them from Aughadown to the cusp of world championship glory. “It is a great feeling winning with your club mate, but it is a truly special feeling to do it with your brother.”
The twins are determined to emulate the great feats of previous superb Skibbereen Rowing Club members who excelled on the international stage such as the Coakley brothers Eugene and Richard, Timmy Harnedy, the O’Donovan brothers Paul and Gary, Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll, Denise Walsh, amongst many others. They have very specific goals they aim to realise in both the short and long-term as Jake revealed. “Our short-term aim is to keep improving with the focus on winning a medal in the Senior World Championships in Bulgaria this month. From a long-term perspective, I hope to compete and win the Olympic Games, as it is the pinnacle of the sport.”