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UCC Sport on The Global Map after Tokyo Success

By Sam Curtin 


It was long time coming around, but the delayed Tokyo Olympics did not disappointed. Not just from a team Ireland perspective but also team UCC which featured 11 athletes who are either current students or graduates from the skull and crossbones. Seven are current undergraduates which made the university the most represented third level institution on the team.

On the eve of the Games, hopes were high that Ireland could come home with a record medal total. While perhaps 4 medals is a slight underachievement considering the quality within the team, there were many highlights from a UCC perspective. On that note, there is nowhere else to start but, on the water, where our rowers showed that they are the new global superpower in the sport. The women’s four got proceedings off to a flier by winning bronze which featured both Emily Hegarty (current) and Aifric Keogh (graduate) alongside teammates Eimear Lambe and Fiona Murtagh. They became the first Irish women’s crew ever to win a medal at the Olympics. A mention must also go to current student Tara Hanlon who was reserve for the crew and put in a huge amount of work to make it this far.

This medal was not the only evidence of the strength of women’s rowing in Ireland with Aoife Casey and Margaret Cremen finishing a very respectable 8th place in the Lightweight doubles’ skulls. This is a terrific achievement for such a young crew and Paris 2024 promises to be even better. UCC student Lydia Murphy was reserve for this crew.

Onto the men’s and there is no where else to start but with the dynamic duo of Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy, arguably the poster boys for UCC and Ireland going into the Olympics. They did not disappoint living up to their status as gold medal favourites by powering to gold in the lightweight doubles’ sculls. They are still unbeaten as a pair and Paris could beckon them to legendary status if they manage to repeat the feat. Unfortunately for fellow UCC student Ronan Byrne and partner Philip Doyle they could not replicate their form going into the Olympics and only managed 10th in the men’s double sculls. They are a young crew with huge potential however and will go into Paris as possible medal contenders with this experience hopefully standing to them. 

From the water to the track and once again UCC was well represented in athletics. Phil Healy played out her Olympic dream by running her heart out in the inaugural 4x400m mixed relay event which saw Ireland qualify for the final. Although, the UCC graduate could not repeat the feat in the 200m and 400m, she did admit afterwards that the relay was her priority. Healy also became the first Irish athlete to compete in three events at the same Olympics on the track. Fellow graduate Louise Shanahan also exited in the 800m heats in what is arguably the most competitive event currently in women’s middle distance running. Aoife Cooke ran in the women’s marathon with the horrendous conditions in Sapporo taking its toll on the UCC graduate who unfortunately failed to finish. Having said this, the 34-year-old only ran her first marathon in 2015 after years of injuries which shows how far one can go if they have the belief and work ethic to achieve their dreams.

Overall, it was a very successful games for the university and with such a young team, Paris could be even better. Interestingly UCC would have finished 59th in the medal table if competing as its own team which shows the quality of athletes present on Leeside.

Finally, a huge mention must be given to UCC athletes who competed at the Paralympics just a couple of weeks later. Current student and shot putter Mary Fitzgerald along with alumni Patrick O’Leary (canoeist) and Niamh McCarthy (discus) represented Ireland in Tokyo. McCarthy finished just shy of the medals in 5th in the F5 women’s discus while O’Leary matched this result in the men’s VL3 event. Fitzgerald who was making her debut at the games finished a respectable 6th in the F40 shot put in difficult conditions.

 Fingers crossed we see all of them along with even more athletes in both sets of Games compete in 2024. One thing we know for certain is that the future is bright for sport in UCC. Paris here we come!


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