O'Neill keen to row at Rio

JOHN ALEXANDER
Last updated 07:03 23/01/2013
Sean O'Neill
Emma Allen

Irish eyes are smiling: Double Olympian Sean O’Neill pictured during a training row on the Wairau River this week, is keen to get back in black.

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The London Olympics last year were supposed to be Sean O'Neill's rowing swansong but a change of heart has the Wairau oarsman champing at the bit for more.

His dream, ever since making a New Zealand development squad in 2001, had always been to row for New Zealand at an Olympic Games. He's already gone one better than that, having also rowed for Ireland at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, in the four at both events.

While London was a memorable experience, the 32 year-old Limerick-born rower wasn't happy to end his career on a disappointing note. The New Zealand four failed to make the A final and that sparked his urge to keep going.

Speaking at the Wairau Rowing Club yesterday prior to a training session, O'Neill said, "Obviously, the result we got wasn't quite what we were hoping for. Probably six months before London, I was going to finish up after the Olympics. I decided after that it wouldn't really be a nice way to finish a career which has been quite good to me."

The coxed four never really got going to their full potential in the lead-up to London but there were patches when it performed well.

"We set a time at the Lucerne World Cup that was just two seconds off the world record. The fastest four New Zealand had ever put out at that time. That was with a roaring tailwind.

"In our heat in London with a tailwind we clocked the fourth or fifth-fastest time but you have to be able to perform in all conditions and we weren't quite able to get it together when the wind swung around."

Far from being jaded after so many years of hard training, travelling and racing overseas, the jovial Irishman is fit and raring to go.

"My body is perfect. I'm doing better than I've ever done. I trained on the bike and in the gymnasium in Ireland, got back in the single scull and pretty much did my own thing."

Keeping fit obviously paid dividends because he surprised both himself and Central Region Performance Centre coach Mark Stallard with how well his ergometer test went and as Stallard said, "I expected a fat Irishman to show up but Sean's in very good shape."

O'Neill said, "In the erg on Monday I was just two seconds off my best ever score. I was quite nervous going into it because I didn't really know what was going to happen when the pressure really came on. I was delighted with the result. I'm mentally and physically fine, I've had a good break and I'm really keen."

Being left out of the New Zealand summer training squad did not surprise him and he understands the need to develop younger talent but, at 32, he believes he's got more to give if the selectors want him and the nationals at Lake Ruataniwha in Twizel next month are a big focus.

"I was happy to go back to Ireland for a while and stay with my family and freshen up but it's so good to get back into this environment [at the Central RPC based at Wairau]. A little bit less pressure on you than at Lake Karapiro but you are still doing the work and I'm making myself ready for New Zealand trials."

Having already won seven national Red Coat titles, including the eights last year, O'Neill is keen to add to that list.

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He's won three Red Coats in the pair with Rob Hellstrom but this season looks likely to team up with another former New Zealand squad member Ian Seymour in his quest for a fourth pairs crown.

"My main focus is we would like to defend a few titles that we won last year. The trials are a week after that and if the New Zealand selectors want me to trial I would be happy to."

- The Marlborough Express

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