Almost 50 athletes from Enniskillen Royal Boat Club travelled to Dorney Lake last weekend, the home of the London 2012 Olympics rowing venue.
They were there for what is regarded as one of the biggest and most competitive school rowing competitions in the world, the British National School’s Regatta.
The small Enniskillen club returned home late on Sunday night having proven that money isn’t everything as it held its own against Britain’s top elite private schools on a historic weekend for the club.
Kick starting a successful regatta for the club was the girls junior 14 quad of Abby Corry, Kayleigh Bradley-West, Carragh Leonard, and Amy Pryce coxed by Rebecca Conway. They came through each round to fight their way to sixth position. Their final placing belies just how well this crew rowed, as they had to come through each round seeded in the unfavourable outside lane exposed to the wind.
Saturday saw the eights take centre stage for the main events of the weekend and first up was the girls junior 16 eight. The crew coxed by Sarah Dolan showed their intent placing second after the morning time trial behind Oxford’s Headington before winning their semi-final. However, it seemed as if their morning’s efforts had taxed them in the final as they slipped to fourth just missing out on a bronze medal.
The girls male counterparts in the boy’s junior 16 1st eights came through the morning’s time trial ranked second. The semi-final and final provided this crew the opportunity to race against elite championship crews.
Having qualified for the B final, the crew of Robbie Mills, Sam Balcombe, Jack McDade, Jack Kennedy, Matthew McBrien, Rory Blake, Connor Stewart, and Michael Stewart coxed by Ben Corrigan raced to the line with what appeared to be nothing separating first and second.
It took a photo finish to determine the crew from Hampton had managed to pip the Enniskillen crew by less than foot to claim gold.
Similarly, the boy’s junior 18 first eight raced against championship crews in what was some of the most ferocious racing on display over the weekend. They showed great maturity and resolve to book a final spot against their first eight opponents having been unhappy with their row in the morning’s time trial.
With less than half a boat length separating the top four crews as they approached the finishing line the crew of Nathan Timoney, Odhran Donaghy, Ross Corrigan, Aaron Johnston, Peter Murphy, Conor McLaughlin-Borlace, James Foster and Sean-O’Hare-Smith coxed by Rory Farragher held on to claim bronze.
It was Sunday however, which saw history being made as the club went on to exceed Saturday’s success.
Again it was the turn of the Junior 16 girls to set the standard as they again placed second in the morning’s time trial. However, they claimed the final qualifying position in their semi-final for the A-final, as the weekend’s exertions seemed to take its toll on the crew. Nonetheless, the crew of Caoimhe Leonard, Zoe McCutcheon, Maeve Donnelly and Victoria Wilson coxed by Sarah Dolan stamped their authority on the final in the first 500 metres and led the race from start to finish to finish one length up and win the Anna Fangen Cup. What makes their achievement much more remarkable is that the entire crew is one year young for the event, while Maeve Donnelly only started rowing in September.
The medal rush continued on Sunday afternoon as the boy’s junior 16 four booked their place in the A-final as one of the top seeds. At the halfway mark, the crew of Nathan Timoney, Odhran Donaghy, Peter Murphy and Robbie Mills trailed in second to the crew from Eton.
However, nothing could deter the confidence this crew had in their ability in the second half of the race. With 250 metres left and half a length down the crew stormed through Eton in spectacular fashion to win the Windsor Cup.
The girl and boys junior 18 championship pairs rounded off a successful weekend for the club.
The girls pair of Mia-Jayne Elliott placed fifth in the A-final. Meanwhile the boys pair of Ross Corrigan and Aaron Johnston, just back from Europeans, claimed another silver medal behind the crew from Shrewsbury bringing the club’s weekend medal tally to two golds, two silvers and one bronze.
All crews exhibited some of the finest racing the club has ever seen, mixing it with Britain’s elite. The Fermanagh athletes proved while they might not have access to the financial backing of private schools they certainly make the most of what they have on Lough Erne. With one month and a half left to the Irish Championships the club can look forward with confidence.