Last Saturday, 2nd May, saw RBAI Rowing Club take to a very rough Bann river to compete against a number of clubs from all over Ireland at the Portadown Regatta. There was a very strong tail-wind blowing along the finishing straight all day, making the conditions wintery, the paddle to the start very tiring and the race to the finish very nervy as the white horses tried their best to hold onto the athletes oars and prevent them rowing smoothly.
RBAI travelled with a total of 13 crews, composing a mixture of experienced athletes, entering their final regatta season, to beginners who had only been rowing for 6 months. The racing at Portadown takes place on a 1,000metre two-lane course, with two tricky bends included. This tests even the most experienced crews as they can easily get caught out by the difficult steering requirements.
Racing early in the day was the Club 2x of Josh Hoy and Andrew Mallon. Being over-age this year means Andrew and Josh must compete against older and significantly more experienced athletes in the open categories. They were dealt a blow when they came up against the favoured home crew who put together a solid start and a strong middle phase of their race to finish 2 lengths ahead.
The Junior 16 4x+ of Harry Hetherington, Jamie Dickson, James Emery, Tom Glynn and Michael Honan were having their first competitive outing, with new oarsman Tom replacing Sam Kennedy who is off injured. In their heat against Neptune from Dublin, they put in a solid start but found themselves slightly down. In the middle of the race they made all the right moves and slowly worked their way back into contention and then into the lead. As they exited the final corner they had about a 6 foot lead, but Neptune were rallying. Over the final few hundred metres the rough conditions on the boathouse side of the course caught out the Inst crew and they started to fall back. In the end they finished ½ length down, but should take comfort from a very strong first outing for such a young crew.
The Junior 18 4+ of Michael Gaston, Conor Craig, Darragh Patterson, Peter Bowman and Michael Honan and the Junior 18 8+ of Brent Whiteside, Angus Harley, Jamie Dickson, James Emery, Conor Craig, Peter Bowman, Michael Gaston, Darragh Patterson and Michael Honan had probably the toughest draws of the day. Both of these crews came up against Bann Rowing Club who have been Championship contenders in the junior sweep categories. With little experience, but a lot of heart the two RBAI boats set out to upset the odds. In both cases the task was too great, but the crews should be pleased with their efforts and with the knowledge that next time they race they will be much closer.
The Junior 18 2x of Angus Harley and Brent Whiteside have been getting stronger and stronger in recent weeks, but an illness in the crew only a week ago put a question mark over their ability to perform on the day. In the end they performed exceptionally well, beating Carrick-on-Shannon comfortably in their heat and then dispatching a CAI crew equally comfortably in their semi-final. In the final they faced a strong Bann line-up. The long day of racing was starting to show on the pairing and after jumping straight out of one boat and into the 2x to go up for their final they were denied a chance to fight for the win by some questionable steering off the start, in very testing conditions. Well done to the crew for making it all the way to their final.
In the heat of the Club 1x, Nick Reid faced a very tough race from a gutsy sculler from Carrick-on-Shannon but Nick was more than equal to the task. He showed good strength and composure to ease ahead early on and never let the opposition back into the race. In the final Nick faced a sculler form Poartadown. This sculler had earlier knocked out the RBAI Club 2x and he was clearly intent on getting another win. Nick pushed hard off the start but the Portadown sculler matched every move. Coming into the final straight both boats were level and this didn’t change until the line. As they crossed the finish line no-one in either boat or the bank knew who had won. The call came over that it was a home win, by a matter of inches. A frustrating end, but a good performance by both athletes.
The Junior 16 1x was one of the biggest entries of the Regatta, with a tough draw for Harry Hetherington in every round. In his heat he was up against a huge sculler from Bann Rowing Club. Harry showed great composure and skill in the rough conditions to execute a perfect race plan and bring himself home comfortably in first place. It was more of the same in the semi, when he faced a sculler Neptune. He took his time off the start and then showed his true pace in the second half of the race to bring his scull home first. In the final Harry again met a sculler from Bann. Harry again set about his race plan, which brought him down the home straight side-by-side with his opponent. In order to try and pull ahead Harry tried push after push until with 50metres to go the Bann sculler got a slight edge, which he was able to hold to the line. It was a fantastic effort by Harry against much bigger opposition, but one that I am sure will push him on to wins over the coming weeks.
One of the most impressive performances of the day has to go to the Inst Novice 4x+ of Tom Glynn, Morgan Lavery, Daniel Lowry, David Patterson and Rory Hulatt. This crew was in their first race together and in their heat faced a quad from Belfast Rowing Club. As the crew was racing Novice they could be up against anyone, as long as they were in their first competitive year of rowing, this meant their opposing crew had a 19 year-old in it, up against an RBAI crew of year 11 boys!! This did not phase the boys at all as they powered off to a strong start. They were level with the BRC boat until half-way around the first bend, when a good push took the Inst boys into the lead. This lead then extended as they got further into the course and by the end they were well ahead. In the final the boys were up against a very capable MCB boat. The Methody crew jumped off the start and made steady progress down the course. The Inst crew didn’t have an answer on that occasion but will definitely be looking for revenge when they next meet. Well done to all the crew for a very good couple of performances in incredibly tough conditions.
The other Novice crew at the Regatta was the 1x of Darragh Patterson. Darragh had shown a lot of promise in training and was keen to demonstrate this on race day. The wind was howling and the waves were getting very close to lapping into the boat as he took to the start area. Due to the conditions the umpire decided upon a running start (where the crews would not attach to the stake boats, for fear of sinking/capsizing). Off the start Darragh showed himself to be a match for his Carrick opponent. In fact this was the case all the way down the course. Push was followed by counter-push and coming onto the home straight the crews were level. In the rough conditions in the final couple of hundred metres Darragh’s steering went off momentarily, but this was enough to cause him to clip the bank. This allowed his rival to push ahead, but it was a very good effort by someone who has not spent much time in a single.
The next event featured the Junior 18 4x- of Nick Reid, Angus Harley, Brent Whiteside and Michael Gaston. This has been the RBAI flagship boat for the past two seasons and has gone undefeated in all that time. With a completely new line-up from last year this new outfit was keen to show they were a match for their predecessors. In their heat they faced a very strong Bann crew. This was their top 4 athletes and they were keen to break the Inst record. Off the start the crews were level, but approaching the first corner the RBAI boys started to find a rhythm that was taking them into the lead around the outside of the first bend. Panicked by this the Bann crew forgot about their steering and ploughed straight into the Inst boat and pinned both up against the bank. The Inst boat extracted itself and paddled through to the finish-line comfortable victors. The final had a similar feel against an MCB boat out to show what they could do. The Methody crew got out to a fast start and made the most of their bend, but as the race unfolded the RBAI crew started to push back. The further the race went on the faster the Inst boys pushed back, then level, then ahead. As they exited the final corner the Inst crew had a slim lead, but Methody were throwing everything into their race to keep ahead. In a similar way to the Bann boat the Methody crew momentarily misjudged their steering and their big push only served to cause the boat to collide with the bank. It was an unfortunate end to what could have been a classic encounter on the water between the two great Schools.
The only top-level event at the entire Regatta was the Senior 4x- and featured the RBAI crew of Josh Hoy, Lucas Prodohl, Brent Whiteside and Andrew Mallon. This is the majority of the Junior 4x- from the last two seasons, who are all over-age by Rowing Ireland rules. This event again saw RBAI up against Bann. After the problems of the Junior 18 4x- Bann were fuelled for revenge and were going all out for the win. All the way down the course there was nothing at all to separate the crews. They both pushed each other as hard as they could and brought out the best of both boats, recording one of the fastest times of the day in the process. In the final few strokes both crews did everything they could to break the opposition and give themselves a lead, but it was going to go right to the line. It was a blanket finish and no-one on the bank could tell who had taken it. The judgement came through that it was a win to RBAI by ½ canvas (about a foot). A very good win for a strong crew having had the best brought out of them by an equally good opponent.
The Club 4x+ of Josh Hoy, Lucas Prodohl, Brent Whiteside, Andrew Mallon and Michael Honan were next up against a CAI crew in their final. This crew had made a quick leap from their coxless quad to the coxed quad and the fatigue of doing two flat-out races back-to-back showed off the start. The CAI crew leapt out to an early lead and never looked back. Even holding off a spirited push in the middle of the race to beat the Inst crew by a length at the line.
The final event of the day was the Junior 18 1x of Nick Reid. Nick had to come through a heat against a Bann sculler and a semi against a fresh sculler from MCB to get to the final. He had shown a good level of strength and skill to make it there, but after 7 gruelling races over the day nothing was guaranteed. Nick made a powerful start but was unable to shake the sculler from Carrick-on-Shannon, who was throwing the kitchen sink into his final race of the weekend. As both boats entered the final few hundred metres Nick had stolen a slight lead, but only of a few feet. In the dash for the line both were pushing hard but it was Nick who managed to hang on by the slimmest of margins. Well done to Nick on making it two wins from three events for the day.
Well done to all the boys for a very strong effort in incredibly tough conditions. Of the 13 crews that competed, 10 made it to finals, where 3 picked up wins. A big thank you to all the parents who came down to support and also to the coaches, Mr Warnock, Miss Piele, Mr Hulatt and Mrs Honan for their help and direction on the day.
The next outing for the Club will be this Saturday, 9th May, at Queen’s Regatta in Castlewellan Forest Park. Details will follow later in the week.