Bann Rowers Strike Triple GOLD in Cork. (see gallery page for photos)

Bann Rowers Strike Triple GOLD in Cork. (see gallery page for photos)

Bann Rowers Strike Triple GOLD in Cork

“This is Bann’s greatest ever Irish Championship result” announced Bobbie Platt MBE, the President of Bann Rowing Club. “Over the previous 146 years prior to 2010, we had won nine Irish Championships, and now we have followed up last year’s gold with another three, it’s really incredible!”

Club Captain Keith Leighton continued,” We have set the second fastest MJ18 eights time in Irish Championship history, 5:52.1, in winning silver, just 0.5 seconds behind an all star eight from St. Josephs. Sarah Allen has won our first ever sculling Championship gold, and Bann’s  “sweep” crews have won gold in the “MJ18 coxed four”, and in “the MJ18 pair” for the very first time .”

The 2011 Championship in the National Rowing Centre, Cork, saw Bann entering six events. In total they qualified for the “A” final in all six events, and actually won three golds and one silver. Every single Bann rower won at least one Championship medal, either silver or gold, including their excellent Cox Jack Henry.

Jack has set some sort of a record himself. Last year, his elder brother Patrick won gold and silver medals racing in the “four” and the “eight” for Bann in the 2010 Irish Championships. This year Jack repeated the family feat by winning gold and silver medals, again, in the 2011 Bann Championship  “four” and “eight” crews.

Our first race was a straight final, the MJ18 eights, with Bann seeking to retain their 2010 Championship and extend their boat “the Sizzler’s” magnificent “unbeaten in Ireland” streak, which stretches back two years to these same Championships in July 2009. Bann’s main rivals, St. Josephs College, famous throughout Ireland as “The Bish”, had their entire crew back from 2010, all a year stronger and more experienced, and now all in their final race together. The Bann crew had four excellent newcomers making their Championship debuts, including two fifteen year olds rowing at J18 level, and six from this year’s Bann crew will be eligible to compete again next year.

The race started in quite good conditions, and Bann swept out into an early lead and, with stroke Joel Cassells setting an incredible early pace, Royal Portora and all the other crews except “Bish” soon dropped off. Half way, at the 1,000m mark, the excited commentator announced that Bann had a lead of about a third of a length, but that “Bish” were now putting on a massive surge. Bann deliberately stayed cool as “Bish” closed the gap and then nudged into a lead. Had they gone too soon or had the Bann men anything left were the questions to be answered. With 250m left Bann hit the gas and reduced the “Bish” lead to six feet. Five strokes later the lead was now down to five feet with both crews now rating over forty strokes per minute, Bann continued to cut down “Bish’s” narrow lead. Bow ball for bow ball, no-one could tell who was going to win. Both boats sped over the finishing line absolutely steaming along, at enormous speed, right beside each other, and it was obvious that this was one of the best quality races of the entire Championships.

Eventually the result was confirmed; “Bish” had managed to win by around 3 feet, exactly half a second in time. What about Bann’s magnificent Championship record time of 5:54.4, from 2010, would it still stand? The time keepers checked and then rechecked. Eventually Martin Corcoran, the Chief Executive Officer of the Irish Amateur Rowing Union confirmed, Bann had won silver with a fabulous race time of 5:52.1, which was 2.3 seconds faster than the old record, but nevertheless Bann were half a second behind “Bish” who had set a new record time of 5:51.6.  Queens University won the 2011 Intermediate eights Championship in a time of 6:00.1

The Bann MJ18 coxed four were next up to race and looked devastating in their semi-final as they blasted out a massive lead by 1,000m and then executed coach Seamus Reynold’s instructions by relaxing, and still winning by three lengths from Portora and “Bish”. In the semi-finals, with three crews to qualify from each heat, no-one really knew how hard the qualifiers had been forced to race but the experienced, powerful Bann crew had looked awesome. Well, in the final, it soon became apparent that no-one in Ireland could come close to matching the Bann crew and in emphatic style they swept over the finishing line to take GOLD by an astonishing 8.3 seconds margin over “Bish”. Everyone from Bann, all the rowers, coaches and supporters ran out onto the floating, launch platform to congratulate this fabulous crew as they returned to the shore. To everyone’s amazement, an RTE  news camera crew joined us out on the platform, filming the wild celebrations and the whole joyous episode was broadcast on RTE news and sport throughout Friday night.

Then the phone and text messages really started arriving. World Champion Richard Chambers, and Peter, his young brother and latest World Cup Winner, raced each other to congratulate their home club. Double Olympian and current Royal Henley  sculling champion “big” Alan Campbell phoned next, then GB International Stephen Feeney and so it went on, supporters and well-wishers congratulating the Club from all over the world. The President of Irish Rowing, Tony Dooley then presented the magnificent “Robert Storrs Rose Bowl” trophy to this, quite superb, winning Bann crew.

Sarah Allen’s epic day began with a convincing row in her semi-final of the WJ18 single sculls, to qualify her for her target of making the “A” final. Sarah’s excellent time of 8:35.2 gave coach Geoff. Bones every reason to have confidence for the forthcoming Novice event. Sarah’s sculling was improving with every race, and she looked even stronger when qualifying in second place in her semi-final, just behind Addley from Queens. Geoff. encouraged Sarah to be prepared to go for broke in her final, and at halfway Sarah was lying in second place by one length. At this stage Sarah decided to risk all, break her rhythm and to go on the attack for twenty strokes. As she swept past Addley and into the lead, a huge cheer went up from the Bann supporters down at the water’s edge, and Sarah, just kept on accelerating away, getting stronger and faster with every stroke. At the finish, Sarah had turned the tables, knocking Addley from Queen’s down into bronze, and defeating Mertz from Shandon by a healthy 4.7 second margin. She had won, not only Bann’s first ever Ladies Championship sculling gold, but also, the first ever sculling Championship for Bann in its proud history. Sarah’s first phone call was to her delighted mum and dad.

Bann’s MJ18 quad, had sculled together just once prior to the Champs, and were the same crew who had raced in the eight and then won gold in the coxed four. The boat had been fast and well balanced and coach Seamus Reynolds had decided to give them a “wild card” entry at the champs. Their semi-final draw was cruel, only two from six to qualify, and both pre-race favourites, Castleconnell and Royal Portora in the same heat as us. Both these rival crews were unbeaten all year, without having raced against each other, and were each composed of four international crewmen, so qualification into the “A” final sure wasn’t going to be easy for Bann. In one of the biggest upsets of the day, Bann moved from fourth, into third and then with 500m to go really started eating into second placed Portora’s huge lead. Castleconnell were away safe in first, but with the finish line approaching Bann were going at a tremendous speed and their great rivals Portora seemed to have run out of gas. The result took ages and then out it came. Yes, Bann had done it; they had eliminated Portora’s previously undefeated crew by just… one foot. But in sport, that is enough.

The last event for Bann was the MJ18 pairs and this was going to be a real cracker. Last year’s winners, Presentation were back with the same crew to defend their title. Since defeating our same Bann pair in the final last year, they had won all over Ireland, even at Intermediate and Senior levels. Presentation had been bitterly disappointed when the Irish selectors had picked the much younger Bann crew for the recent Munich regatta, which the Bann men had won, and for the forthcoming Coup de la Jeunesse International regatta in Linz, Austria. Presentation had withdrawn their two boys from their four and all other races, keeping them fresh and prioritising this big race. The Bann men, stroke Joel Cassells, and bowman Christopher Black, were now in their sixth race of the Championship, and the final would be both lads seventh race. Soon it would all be sorted out on the water, and the semi-final draw ensured that both crews would avoid each other. Both crews easily won their respective semi-finals to set up the massive showdown.

Presentation had practiced and developed an electrifying start, and usually won their races quickly, often opening up leads of six or seven lengths by 500m mark and then being able to relax and Bann coach Seamus Reynolds knew this. He gave the Bann lads their own race plan and soon the crews were on their stake boats and under starter’s orders.  As predicted, Presentation tore off at a blistering pace, and by 300m had established a lead of about two lengths but both Bann and “Bish” had also made lightening fast starts. Seamus had told the boys that no matter what, by the 500m mark they must be no more than one length down, and sure enough the race commentator declared this was exactly the margin at this mark. Now the Bann men really started to push on and seemed to pull “Bish” with them so that by half way very little separated all three boats. But this Bann pair are just a little bit special, their class now began to tell and they powered smoothly away from both “Bish” and Presentation, and just kept flying faster and smoother and even faster right to the finish for Bann’s first ever “pairs” gold. They had beaten Presentation by a huge margin, 13.7 seconds, which was about four lengths; in fact “Bish” had managed to come second.  As all three crews disembarked everyone shook hands and this sporting behaviour received enormous praise and applause. The true mark of class and quality was revealed in the record breaking Bann pair’s winning time. Queens won the men’s senior pairs championship in 6:56.7. Queens also won the men’s Intermediate pairs championship in 6:58.4. But Bann’s seventeen year old pair won their MJ18 championship in an amazing 6:53.2, making them the fastest pair, in all categories, in Ireland.

This great win made it a golden hatrick of Irish Championship wins for Bann, a record haul, and when President Tony Dooley presented Bann with the massive “Fr Eddie Diffley Cup” it ended Bann Rowing Club’s  greatest ever Irish Championship regatta in fitting style.

Club Captain Keith Leighton thanked the many friends, family and supporters who had travelled the long way down to Cork. He congratulated every rower for the effort and sacrifices they had all made, and on their record breaking, indeed history making achievements at this Championship regatta. Bann’s the most important ingredient, is the quality and dedication of our coaches. Neither Seamus nor Geoff. would make a speech, but both coaches promised to keep going for another year, at Bann, home of THREE 2011 IRISH CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS !!

July 24th, 2011

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