Northern Ireland

Rio 2016: County Cork silver medallists making a splash on and off the water

Gary and Paul O'Donovan Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption "Close your eyes and pull like a dog" - that's how to win an Olympic medal, the O'Donovan brothers' way

What's the secret to Olympic success? Practice? Dedication? Raw talent?

It is: "From A to B as fast as you can go. Hope for the best. Close your eyes, and pull like a dog."

That's the view of Gary and Paul O'Donovan, the County Cork rowing brothers who won silver in Rio on Friday.

It was Ireland's first medal of this Olympics and first ever medal for rowing.

Afterwards, the Skibbereen siblings, who have become a hit both on and off the water, told Irish national broadcaster RTÉ they were "dreading going home now".

Why? Because Belfast boxer and Ireland teammate Mick Conlan said "he'd box the head off us if we didn't get the gold".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Gary and Paul clinched Ireland's first Olympic Games rowing medal

Their interviews with RTÉ have attracted an army of fans, particularly online.

So far this week they have extolled the virtues of steak and spuds.

They also jokingly complained about a decision to cancel racing due to high winds, because going out on the water would have been a "bit of craic".

Their laid-back interview style and rowing success has been a bright spot for Team Ireland in what has so far been a disappointing Olympics, overshadowed by shock defeats and a boxer's failed drug test.

On Thursday, the pair qualified for the final after coming third in their heat, edging out Team GB - including County Antrim rower Richard Chambers - and they could not resist a cheeky nod towards their British neighbours.

"We had a cracker of race there, I think that race there had anything you could want from any race," said Gary.

"I suppose, with the year that's in it, it's great to beat the Brits as well," he laughed.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Steak and spuds - all in a day's work for the O'Donovan boys

If the pair were feeling any pressure ahead of the final, they did not show it.

"We go home now, get ourselves into an ice bath - maybe get a bit of steak.

"The food is fantastic - you could have steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner with spuds if you want," Gary said.

"No Kerr's Pinks though," Paul interjected.

He added that their coach was "going mad" because the Irish potato is not available in Rio.

And what about making the weight with all that steak on board?

"Sure we're only small boys," Paul said.

Image copyright Skibbereen Credit Union
Image caption Hundreds of supporters packed in to Skibbereen Credit Union on Friday to watch the brothers win silver

Back at home, the whole of Skibbereen was backing the boys.

The town's credit union halted transactions for half-an-hour to show the final on a big screen.

Donal O'Driscoll, the credit union's manager, said the staff wanted to create a "Rio-type atmosphere" for the people of Skibbereen to watch the race.

But in spite of the Brazilian carnival fever, there simply had to be some steak and spuds on the menu.

"We had over 400 people in to watch it and we had to turn another couple of hundred away," he said.

"We like to enjoy the craic but we're serious about our sport.

"And sure, we're all about the spuds and steak here!"

Image copyright Skibbereen Credit Union
Image caption The Kerr's Pinks went well with the steaks at the credit union in Skibbereen

Donal has a personal connection the the brothers - his son has been rowing with them since they were 10 years old and his wife taught them at primary school.

Their small corner of Cork is beaming with pride at the achievement, he added.

"We're just a small, little area but the boys have made history for us, they've put Skibbereen on the map," he said.

"They're just ordinary guys achieving an extraordinary thing on the biggest stage in the world.

"They're still very young, still four years away from their peak, so we'll go again at the next Olympics!"

No doubt Skibbereen's silver heroes will take it all in their stride.

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