World Championships, New Zealand ~ Prior to their departure for New Zealand, the Irish Coxless Pair of Willie Ryan and Christy O’Brien, Coach Jim Muldoon and Team Manager Peadar Casey met with An Taoiseach Mr. Jack Lynch at Government Buildings, who wished them well in their endeavours. They were seen off at Dublin Airport by the Minister of State for Sport Mr. Jim Tunney and Garda Commissioner Mr. Patrick McLoughlin. The Irish Team departed Ireland on 9thOctober 1978 and travelled via, London, Hong Kong and Calcutta to Auckland. They stayed at the Abbey Travel Lodge Motel, 12 Lorne Street, Hamilton and returned home, via Los Angelus, on the 6thNovember 1978, having achieved fifth place in the Grand Final, Ireland’s highest ever placing at a World Championship.
The year 1978 will go down in Irish sporting folklore as the year when the mighty All Blacks travelled all the way from New Zealand to be tamed by fifteen Munster men in that memorable game at Thomond Park. In Irish rowing, the year will be remembered for a powerful display by two Garda oarsmen wearing the green on the far away shores of New Zealand. The New Zealand Herald (4/11/78) reported:
Ireland’s small rowing team have proved to be among the most popular of competitors at Karapiro. Their coxless pair from Dublin were warmly cheered on Thursday by Kiwis still smarting under a 12 – 0 All Black defeat by Munster.
The World Championships took place at Lake Karapiro, Cambridge, New Zealand on an artificial lake that was formed as part of a hydroelectricity scheme on the Waikato River on the North Island. The Irish Independent (2/11/78) describes Ireland’s endeavours in the heat:
The coxless pair started well, just behind the Landvoigt twins of East Germany and ahead of Clarke and Roberts of Britain; with the Dutch in fourth and the Bulgarians fifth…Willie and Christy needed to finish in the first three to qualify for the semifinals. They held their position for 1,000 metres and with a quarter of the race to go they were only three seconds down on the East German Olympic Champions, but the Dutch had overhauled the British and were attacking the Irish. Bosman and Horstink got the sniff of victory as they passed the Dublin Police, who were beginning to look dead beat. The British came through after the Dutch, showing that they were in a healthy state to defend the silver medal they won last year.
Ireland (Garda) came fourth and went to the repechage instead of directly to the semifinal. The determined Irish pair left nothing to chance in the repechage. We were first home in a time of seven minutes and six seconds, beating Canada, the Soviet Union, Bulgaria and Austria. The prize was a place in the semifinal the following day. Willie Ryan was quoted in the Irish Independent (3/11/78) as saying:
The race worked out perfectly, just as we had planned it. Obviously we feel much better now after this satisfactory row, but of course, the toughest part has yet to come.
Having progressed to the semifinal, we lined up against Holland, France, Canada, Norway and the host Country New Zealand. We made no mistake, winning in a time of seven minutes thirty-three seconds, which was the fastest time of the two semifinals; the Dutch were second (7.36) and the French third (7.37). The Irish Times reported:
Stroke Willie Ryan and Christy O’Brien have done it. They are in the final of the coxless pairs in the World Championships at Lake Karapiro in New Zealand. In gusty conditions, with a strong wind blowing sideways across this 2,000 metre open water course, they showed beyond doubt that they are among the best in the world. Just exactly where the Garda pair rates will be seen in tomorrow’s final. In the semi’s Ireland were well away, together with Holland and Norway. It was the French who lead with one length ahead of all others. Until the 1,500 metre mark when Ireland always third and later second position rowed past the French. Then the Dutch, one length down on Ireland past the French in a final spurt over the last 500 metres.
The final was won by the Landvoigt twins from East Germany (Gold medallists at Montreal and Nottingham). The British Pair of Clarke and Roberts, beaten by Willie and Christy on three occasions during the year, got the silver and France won the bronze, Holland were fourth, Ireland were fifth and the USA sixth. This was Irelands best ever performance at a World Championships. Willie Ryan remembers the Grand Final:
Our final row was very disappointing. We just never got it together. If we had we were certainly capable of winning a medal.
Grand Final – New Zealand
Irish Coxless Pair , 1978
Bow Christy O’Brien
Str. Willie Ryan
Coach Jim Muldoon
On the 8thFebruary 1979, at a banquet in the Burlington Hotel, Willie Ryan and Christy O’Brien were presented with a Texaco Sports Star Award to mark their achievement at the World Championship in New Zealand. Other recipients included Tony Ward for rugby, Pat Jennings for soccer, Barry McGuigan for boxing and John Treacy for athletics. In his address at the function, An Taoiseach, Mr. Jack Lynch said:
Our athletes must have the opportunity to prepare and train on a level commensurate with their rivals …