Trinity rowers reflect on success, training and their clubs’ future

DUBC and DULBC made college history over the weekend in securing Trinity victories in four out of four Colours races. We spoke to both clubs shortly after they beat rivals UCD.

sport1How does this set of races differ from the rest?

Michael Corcoran, Dublin University Boat Club (DUBC) Gannon Cup crew: Colours is certainly a grudge match, but it doesn’t necessarily have a reflection on the season to come. UCD always have a good senior crew, but there’s always better out there, be it from Galway or England, and beating UCD alone won’t guarantee a National Championship or a respectable show at Henley, which is the real goal.

What is it like competing at an event like Colours?

Sally O’Brien, Dublin University Ladies’ Boat Club (DULBC) captain and Corcoran Cup crew member: Colours has always been one of the highlight races of the season for both DUBC and DULBC. A win against our biggest rivals, UCD, on the banks of the lower liffey in a colours clash will remain one of the defining moments of a DUBC or DULBC members’ experience rowing at Trinity. The atmosphere is electric, the noise of cheering supporters is deafening, the;whole experience is surreal. Nerves will hit in as you paddle around Heuston Station heading towards the starting zone, but as soon as the starting umpire says, “Attention, go!” a surge of adrenalin pulses through your body. Everything in the middle of the race will become a blur, and it is only when you cross the finish line in the leading position that you actually begin to comprehend what’s going on. The sea of trinity supporters on bikes and buses at the finish line will continue to cheer as you sit in the boat after the race. You take in the moment, congratulate your crew members – these feelings will remain with you every day of every season, and you utilise them to train harder and harder each year. There is nothing worse than losing a Colours boat race, but nothing better than winning one either.

Can you explain UCD’s recent dominance in the Gannon?

Corcoran: Looking at past race results, there are long runs of wins by each college on several occasions. Clubs have their ebbs and flows, and our club is just coming out of a bit of a poor patch. Yesterday’s win was the result of well over a year’s work and training from a large panel of rowers, not just the eight in the boat.

Unlike the Gannon, Trinity’s results have been mixed in the Corcoran, as well as the Dan Quinn and Sally Moorhead races. Do UCD and Trinity differ in how they distribute resources?

Patrick Moreau, DUBC Gannon Cup crew: Exceptional young rowers are drawn to UCD by the availability of scholarships. Hence they generally have more experienced rowers than DUBC/DULBC at senior level. At novice level, neither club has an advantage as both crews begin as inexperienced rowers.

Screenshot (269)DUBC seniors prepare themselves for the last race of the day against rivals, UCDBC. Photo: Tony O’Sullivan

Novices, why did you join rowing?

Conor de Courcy, DUBC Dan Quinn Shield crew: I believe that most of the lads didn’t begin the college year with the notion of joining DUBC. Most of us would have been recruited during the initial weeks of college; we are all very competitive so rowing presented the opportunity to take on an entirely new challenge. There is a huge appeal to the fact that you begin the year with no knowledge or experience in the sport and by the end of the year can be representing the college at an international level.

How did Trinity novices prepare for race season?

de Courcy: For most of us this was our first time rowing. This meant that we had to face a steep learning curve to be able to row at a competitive level. Initial trainings were very much focused on getting the basics right and learning to row in unison with each other, which was no easy task, considering each individual had their own stroke to worry about, along with the erg sessions – trying to attain the fitness levels required for rowing. The Christmas break brought a week long training camp down in Blessington where we could begin to feel the boat moving. The conditions were atrocious, but it was definitely a great deal which then prepared us for some of the rough conditions we would face in the Lagan and Erne head races.

How did training change ahead of the Colours match?

de Courcy: In preparation for colours we upped the ante with morning sessions before college. These sessions really paid off as we began to gel as an VIII. You know the lads are committed when you are out training with ice on the oars! There was big competition for the colours boat so everyone who got a place was racing just as much for the rest of the lads. A huge thanks goes to the coaching staff, Charles Cunningham and Mike Ryder for taking us from bunch of hapless individuals to victory in the Dan Quinn Shield. We look forward to the rest of the race season and to building on this solid start.

What do you do to cope with the pressures of competition?

O’Brien: To be honest, I love the thrill of racing and winning races. The pre race nerves that are inevitable before each race are never really a result of pressure but more of anticipation for what the result of the race will be. Even in the large scale races, such as Colours, Henley, National Championships, there is so much riding on the result of the race, yet I never really think about the end result, but more on what I am going to do in the first stroke of the race, then the second, then the third, and so on. Splitting the race up into small sections, and striving to maximise yourself in those parts more often than not gets the most out of you as an athlete, so rather than thinking about the end result, I prefer to think about the process that will get me there.

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DULBC seniors competing in the Corcoran Cup. Photo: Tony O’Sullivan

Training has in the past been noted as changing drastically before Colours – with pressure mounting, greater emphasis placed on nutrition, boat placement, or in the case of coxes, all things surrounding the piloting of a race boat even down to weight. Was this a difficult change?

O’Brien: We are well used to balancing higher intensity training and nutritional changes. The main point is to ensure that you constantly fuel and hydrate yourself. Higher intensity training means shorter sessions on the water; however this doesn’t mean eating less or drinking less because you aren’t training for as long. It is the opposite in fact. You have to almost eat, drink and sleep more than ever to make sure you recover properly from each session, and will be able to perform to the same if not higher standard the next day and the next day, until race day finally approaches.

How do teams ensure effective transport of equipment to training sessions at Blessington Lake?

O’Brien: We are lucky to have a panel of coaches between both clubs that are always willing to transport boats to and from Blessington week in week out to ensure that all members get the best possible training.

Rowing being a mechanical sport, what technical preparation and knowledge is necessary to ensure an efficient race boat?

O’Brien: It can take years to get perfect technique, and for many, they will never actually get “perfect technique”. The main thing in a crew boat is to maximise your technique to work in unison with the crew – eight people rowing together will get a lot more boat speed than eight people doing their own thing.

How are rowers and coxes prepared before competitive racing or training for the accidents that do occasionally occur in rowing, e.g. flooding, steering malfunctions?

O’Brien: These kinds of accidents are rare, but have happened in the past, so we can never guarantee that racing will run without a glitch. Coxes are always wearing a life jacket so should always be safe, even when wearing loads of clothes to keep warm. Rowers generally are experienced enough to handle most situations within racing, so if an accident were to happen, rowers will be able to deal with these situations in due course.

In a sport requiring equipment, what financial supports do the club rely on?

O’Brien: DUCAC support, alumni donations, donations from the Trinity Association and Trust, and mainly club fundraising. Rowing is probably the most expensive sport to run in college, so smart fundraising and kind support from others helps us to get new equipment and to maintain the equipment that we already have.

What brings you back after exhausting training sessions?

O’Brien: Knowing that the last session probably made you faster, so you have to go back for another session to see how much you actually improved.

DULBC, what happened in the second half of the Sally Moorhead race to ensure a comeback from trailing ¾ a boat length behind to winning the race by 2 second margin?

O’Brien: We knew that with the south station, the second half of the course was going to be our advantage area, so it was vital that we didn’t give away too much to UCD in the first 1,000m. It took a lot of bravery from the crew to push on harder than ever in the first half of the race so as not to fall behind, and then even more bravery to follow through with the race plan and to take our advantage when it came. Really, it was only on the last stretch from the blue bridge that I thought we could have a pop at winning, and within three big strokes, we had extended into a lead of half a length.

What does winning mean to Trinity’s boat clubs?

Moreau: Without winning, the sport would be a lot harder to enjoy. If you are on a losing streak, it becomes more and more difficult to drag yourself to training, as there is no apparent success at the end of the tunnel. Beating UCD has the extra edge of getting one over on our closest of rivals, but we must remember that there will be big races in Ireland and abroad to come later in the season.

O’Brien:  Winning is huge for the clubs, not just for the title of saying you are a champion of whatever race you won, but for club morale, commitment and enjoyment. When a crew is winning, not only does that crew begin to find the love of the sport again, but the other crews within the club also feed off the positive attitude and good vibes of that boat. The atmosphere in the clubs when crews are winning is always electric, and almost makes the rowers want to train even harder to see how far they can push their boundaries.

Winning is the only reward we get for the endless amount of hours we put into our training week in week out. When we win races, all of the early morning double sessions before a full day of college become worthwhile. We begin to get the sense that our boat speed is improving and that we are getting faster as a crew. Ultimately we strive to make the boat go as fast as possible.

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DUBC seniors at the boathouse in War Memorial Park after securing the Gannon Cup. Photo: Tony O’Sullivan

How have the DULBC and DUBC social events been so far this year, and what other ways do the clubs attempt to break up difficult aspects of the competitive sport?

O’Brien:  As ever, the rowing social nights out are always a big hit. There are very few occasions throughout the year that the whole club will get to go out together, as nights out always seem to clash with either college or training. However, we always try to have at least one big night a month where the two clubs go out and think about things other than rowing. Between the DULBC Halloween Massacre, Boat Ball, Christmas Commons, Twelve Pubs, Table quizzes and a few random other nights here and there, both clubs have managed to find that important balance between the enjoyment of training and the social side of rowing.

What will be the next step for DUBC and DULBC?

O’Brien:  For DULBC, we will be moving forward with racing preparations; we will soon have back to back weekend racing, starting first with Neptune Regatta, followed by the University Championships, Skibbereen Regatta and of course our home regatta, Trinity Regatta. The ultimate goal is to win as many championship titles at both the University and National championships (July), so the training will continue right up until the middle of July until racing season is complete.

Corcoran: The Senior DUBC crew still has a lot to work towards. We’ll compete in the Eight’s Head on the Tideway in London, where rowing standards are a lot higher than in Ireland. Then Henley Royal Regatta takes place in the first week of July, in which we compete against universities from all around the world in knockout one-on-one races. Following that are the National Rowing Championships in Cork, where we’ll look to win the senior 8 trophy we narrowly missed out on last year.

Additional reporting by DUBC and DULBC. All photography courtesy of Tony O’Sullivan.