Irish Olympic silver medalists Gary and Paul O’Donovan were greeted by thousands of fans as they returned to their native Co. Cork last night, a fitting welcome for the rowing heroes, who won over the world’s media during their time in Rio.
The brothers were draped in tricolors and were presented with a bag of spuds and a steak. Gary, 23, and Paul, 22, were met by 1,000 people as they landed in Cork Airport Sunday evening, accompanied by 20 other members of the Irish rowing team returning from the World Rowing Championships in Rotterdam.
Not only were the brothers returning as Olympic medalists, the first Irish competitors to ever win a medal in rowing, but Paul succeeded in clinching gold in the men's lightweight sculls final in Rotterdam on Saturday afternoon, providing yet another reason to celebrate for those who packed the airport. Along with Annalise Murphy, the O’Donovans were Ireland’s only medalists at this year's Games and a shining light of humor and good sportsmanship at a time when Ireland's Olympic team was rocked by scandals.
Bonfires were lit along their route and crossed oars erected in towns along the way to Skibbereen. Those who lined the route kept the lads sustained, passing ham sandwiches through the window of the car.
Amazing scenes in Skibbereen pic.twitter.com/mOMqh9dBri— Kieran McCarthy (@KieranMcC_SS) August 29, 2016
Monday evening saw the official homecoming kick off with an open bus parade through Skibbereen, where a crowd of up to 10,000 gathered.
The Crowd in Skibbereen awaiting the arrival of the O'Donovan Brothers with an Icelandic chant 🏻🏻 #PullLikeADogPosted by Cork's 96FM on Monday, August 29, 2016
Olympic heroes welcomed home - 'We're not great at judging crowds but I’d say there’s a million or something here' https://t.co/h5fgk4UKeK— RTÉ News (@rtenews) August 29, 2016
Speaking at their first press conference after their return to Ireland on Sunday, the brothers revealed that the reaction to their Rio success and the welcome home had been “overwhelming.”
"People were here and sending us messages saying ‘you don’t know what you’re in for,’” said Gary.
"Just before we got on the plane in Rotterdam we got a WhatsApp message from the boys in the club saying there were buses coming up from Skibbereen and we were like ‘Jesus, this is going to be insane’."
“It’s a complete shock, we were just there talking sh*te, answering questions. It’s all good for the sport and for the community down here,” Paul added.
“It was kind of a reflection of what it’s been like the last couple of years. That’s why we are so happy."
WATCH: Olympic silver medal winners Gary and Paul O’Donovan give another typically HILARIOUS interview! https://t.co/buL1H5S7UG— BenchWarmers (@BeWarmers) August 29, 2016
They were also questioned about the ticket-touting controversy and the arrest of Pat Hickey, head of Ireland's Olympic committee, but the pair admitted that the scandal had little effect on Team Ireland’s enjoyment of the Games nor did it hamper the delight at their own success.
“When we heard Pat Hickey got arrested I said, ‘Who’s Pat Hickey?’” Gary admitted.
“We had the best time ever over there.”
The brothers are now set to return to their studies in Cork while preparing for next year's World Championships in Florida, where Gary also hopes to match his brother and become a world champion.
— Irish Examiner (@irishexaminer) August 29, 2016
— paul colton (@b2dac) August 29, 2016
— CIT (@CIT_ie) August 20, 2016