Gary & Paul O’Donovan: ‘Mam always sternly warned to never let a woman get in the way’ – Irish Examiner

Chess Training

There are just the two of us brothers. Were from a village called Aughadown, a few miles west of Skibbereen in the countryside of West Cork. It's a lovely scenic place surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and we had the beautiful Roaring Water Bay just a stone's throw away from our house.

Our parents still live down there and we love to spend time there but at the moment we live apart from each other around Cork City due to university commitments and training.

Dad had a small dairy farm growing up that we spent most of our childhood working on. We would get up early in the morning and milk cows before school and we spent much of the summer working on the silage pit and repairing broken down tractors and silage harvesters for Dad and our neighbours. We were told it was good training for when we would be old enough to go rowing.

Gary: My memory from when I was small isnt great but I always remember rowing events. I can still remember visiting the Skibbereen rowing club for the first time and going to my first regatta to support the athletes. Also, the first time our Dad took us rowing 20 years ago.

That was a funny occasion looking back on it because Paul and myself were too small to carry the big heavy training boat for beginners to the water and Dad couldn't lift it on his own so the three of us tried to carry it together, Dad at the stern and the two of us at the bow.

Paul and myself dropped the bow so Dad dragged the boat along the ground down the slip to the water and off we went on our first ever training session, delighted with ourselves.

Paul: Growing up in the countryside was great. There was a big garden for kicking a ball around, trees to climb, cattle to chase, and hay bales to jump on. What more does a kid want?

Im quiet and can be scared of talking to people, so Ive actually enjoyed these lockdowns to an extent. Im good at being on my own. It makes me well suited to fishing, which Im handy at.

My greatest challenge is trying not to be a curmudgeon every day and Id like to not be remembered as one. The days when I can manage that are a big achievement.

Gary: Im best at talking and Im also good at fishing. Im damn handy at a game of chess too. Id like to be remembered as a devilishly handsome chap. I also once missed 14 flights in 12 months. That was some achievement.

I used to lean heavily on Paul for a lot of support when it came to rowing, but more recently Ive figured out that he is a contrarian and you couldn't be paying too much heed to what he says.

Its always good to talk to people and share knowledge and I always like talking to people who have been good at rowing in the past.

Shane O' Driscoll, John Whooley, Tim Harnedy, Eugene Coakley, Diarmuid O Driscoll, Gearoid Towey, and Orla Hayes have always given me good advice and guidance in my rowing and in my life. They were all excellent athletes and are all very successful in their careers outside of rowing.

When I was small, my dad would always tell me to ask the older athletes how to row faster. He would often ask John Whooley in the club to come out in the coach boat with him and help him coach us. I think that sort of humility had a positive influence on my approach to rowing and learning about rowing.

There is a lot to be learned from just listening to people no matter who they are or what they do though. I have noticed over the years that there is as much to learn from people who have tried and failed as people who have succeeded.

From the first day I went rowing my mam has also always sternly warned me to never let a woman get in the way of my rowing. Wise words.

Paul: I would turn to Timmy Harnedy too or Sam Lynch for advice on things. Theyre both great rowers. The best advice Ive ever gotten was from someone who once told me that what doesnt kill you makes you stronger.

But what Ive also learned over the years is that too much of anything can make you sick. What surprises me is how some people really like to try to complicate things when theres just no need.

Gary: What surprises me is how incompetent some people can be. Im scared of incompetent people.

If I took a different fork in the road it would have taken me to China to teach golf.

Paul: I would have been a carpenter at home in Skibbereen.

Paul and Gary ODonovan are ambassadors for Repaks Team Green, an initiative to educate the public on how to recycle correctly. You can join Repaks Team Green initiative by visiting

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Gary & Paul O'Donovan: 'Mam always sternly warned to never let a woman get in the way' - Irish Examiner

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