Stepping out of history’s shadow

DUBC’s Irish Championship win recalls the glory days of old and ranks alongside the club’s greatest past achievments, writes Peter Henry

DUBC’s Irish Championship win recalls the glory days of old and ranks alongside the club’s greatest past achievments, writes Peter Henry

A BIG WIN demands a big celebration, and on Friday week Dublin University Boat Club will mark the senior eight’s momentous victory in the Irish championships with a celebration to remember.

The club will be taking over the Dining Hall on the night of Friday, October 24, in what promises to be its largest get-together in living memory. As many as 260 people, students and graduates, will attend the drinks reception and dinner, which will also celebrate 1998 captain James Lindsay-Fynn’s World Championship gold medal win.

But why is the 2008 senior eight’s win – which occurred back in July – so important? Why is it not just another victory among the determined Boat Club’s many?

The Irish senior eights championship has been a big deal for every Irish club since it was instituted in 1912. Oarsmen of all clubs and backgrounds will declare that it represents the peak of rowing success in this county. This year, for the first time since 1981, the Big Pot – as it’s called – is back with the men in black and white.

The tradition of championship success did not begin for Trinity until 1922. Indeed, for the first years of the event, DUBC were in the final only once. The impact of the Great War on the university was felt among Trinity’s sports clubs, with education and athletic endeavour the least of many young men’s worries at the time.

Bow man Bobby Steen was first over the line in 1922, and again for Trinity’s second win in 1925. In 1926 a win came DUBC’s way yet again, won by the hosts at Trinity Regatta. The decade marked a tentative beginning to Trinity’s eventual dominance.

In the 1930s the event belonged to the men in black and white, who had adopted the new Fairbairn style of rowing. It was an uplifting string of triumphs: 1932, 1933, 1935, 1936, 1937 and 1938 all saw the Big Pot come home to old Trinity. The 1935 championship on the Suir in Waterford was the most dramatic of the decade: in Trinity’s heat, both Shannon and Neptune had to be rescued as their boats went under. The lucky DUBC crew drifted over the line as their own boat sank. Trinity’s longest winning streak in the history of the race took place while the world was at war, with the DU eight winning every year from 1941 to 1946. The UCD club put a stop to this catalogue of glory, as they had previously done to the 1930s wins. The universities dominated those years: it was either Trinity or UCD first past the line from 1935 to 1951.

1949 was another memorable win, the Trinity students beating National at Galway Regatta. Robin Tamplin, who became president of DUBC in 2006, was sitting in the seven seat that year. He was in the stroke seat for the following year when the eight left UCD and Neptune behind them in New Ross.

But the years of Trinity’s dominance were over. Dublin University would no longer dominate Irish waters. Subsequent wins were glorious but sporadic. The UCD club had come to maturity, and Queen’s were looking for their share of the silver. Two very tight races were won from behind to take the Big Pot in 1954. The next win, in 1958, was a close one. After being knocked out on the first day of Henley by Christ’s Cambridge, four days of banter ensued. Preparation for the senior eights championship in Dublin involved a stroll in the Wicklow mountains. A very lucky Trinity beat Garda Síochána by a third of a length that year.

It was 1967 before the next win came Trinity’s way, this time in Blessington, Co Wicklow. Coached by Robin Tamplin, DUBC beat UCD and Garda Síochána to win, and the entire eight were selected to race for Ireland at the Home International – as were two of the 2008 winning crew, Peter Heverin and Eoin MacDomhnaill.

A drought ensued, with UCD and the Gardaí the fastest crews in the country for the next decade. But Trinity had big plans, and by 1976 had claimed another championship win. This was the year before the pinnacle of the 20th century: the win at Henley Royal. An almost identical crew lifted the Big Pot in 1976 and the Ladies’ Plate in 1977.

Some people wondered if a Trinity student eight could ever do it again. It seemed as if the universities were out of contention as the standard of rowing in Ireland increased and increased. Big Pot-winning crews had Henley winners and Irish internationals on board. The students were out of their league.

But they did it in 1981. The nine men who won the championship that year celebrated the 25th anniversary of their triumph last year. Indeed, “will this be the new 1981?” is one of the questions the oarsmen in the black blazers have asked themselves every year since. It had been a preternatural hope: verbally expressed but doubted within. Could it really ever happen?

As 1981 faded into the past, it seemed less and less likely that a student eight from any Irish university could win the Big Pot again. One of Trinity’s apparent drawbacks was its focus on Henley. With very little time to prepare on their return to Ireland, the senior championship was often an afterthought.

When DUBC won the intermediate eights championship in 2006, it was rightfully lauded as a great win for the Trin’s first eight. But it was felt that this was as far as a student eight could go. After all, other Trinity clubs have to go outside of College to recruit members in order to stay competitive at the highest level – surely students couldn’t go it alone in rowing, the most demanding sport of all?

DUBC was sticking to its own rules – full-time Trinity students only – and paying the price.

But it can be done, and it has been done. They did it this year, defeating crews filled with Oxford blues and Irish internationals. It was the 23rd time DUBC had won the event, and the first time in 26 years.

The senior eights championship is a big deal, and Trinity were up to the challenge of beating the best. And so Boat Club men of all ages will come to college next week to celebrate the greatest win of the generation. It’s going to be a great night.

Any current or old Boat Club members who have not been contacted about the event and are interested in attending should write to the club c/o DU Central Athletic Club, or send an email to [email protected].