IF ninety year old Bann Rowing Club president Bobbie Platt MBE says that this was the greatest spectacle ever seen at Bann Rowing club, then no-one can argue with that.
The whole scenario of the Olympic torch being rowed over from Christie Park to the Bann boathouse, in Bann’s Championship boat, the famous ‘Cookstown Sizzler’, rowed and coxed by a Bann crew composed entirely of Irish Champions was stunning. And at the bow, big Seamus Reynolds, Bann’s Head coach, proudly holding the Olympic flame aloft, with his huge arms both raised overhead, the blue sky and the roars of thousands of cheering spectators, the like of which will never be seen or heard here again.
The weekend’s drama had begun with Bann travelling over to Holme Pierrepoint, in Nottingham to compete, for the first time in its 170 year history, in the National Schools Regatta, which is the largest regatta for juniors in Great Britain, and the absolute cream of British rowing, from Eton, Abingdon, St. Pauls, Shrewsbury and Hampton target their whole year around the prestigious Championship Class events.
Bann has an outstanding J18 eight and little did the opposing crews realise that this was the same crew which had recorded the second fastest J18 time in history at the Irish Championships in 2011. But the Bann men seemed overwhelmed in the semi-final and now had one final chance in the repechage event, again with the top two crews to qualify. The task seemed enormous, with opposition from St Edwards, St Pauls and, particularly, the great Shrewsbury crew who had finished third in the London Schools Head, all determined to qualify.
All six big racing eights tore off and slowly but surely the Bann boat began to creep ahead of its rivals. The distinctive Bann rowing technique was clearly evident as by half way the Bann crew were really flying and were leading the whole shooting gallery! It was unbelievable. At the 1,000m mark St Edwards upped their stroke rate noticeably and leapt into a six foot lead but Bann clung in there and now had a bow ball with bow ball tussle with St Paul’s for second place.
Shrewsbury were right in the mix as well and the boats swept over the finishing line in front of massive gallery, with both St Paul’s and Bann crews unsure who had clinched their place in the final. Ultimately Bann almost scraped through losing out by a mere 0.77 seconds, but won seventh place overall in the ‘Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother’s Cup Ch8+’ and inflicted a shock defeat on the much fancied Shrewsbury crew.
Next day, next race, and a strong Bann coxed four showed alot of confidence, boat speed and power clinching a semi-final place out of twenty one Championship crews racing for the ‘Hedsor Cup’. Coach Seamus had set this crew the target of a top ten finish and this was duly achieved in style, with the Bann men finishing ahead of Hampton and Bedford crews and finding themselves in good company with Eton who also missed out on a position in this Championship final.
One event left, two Championship top ten places already achieved, and in worsening weather conditions out rowed the pride of Bann, and indeed of Ireland, Joel Cassells and Christopher Black in the J18 pairs Championships for the highly prestigious ‘Committee Cup’. Not only are these Bann men the reigning Irish Champions, they are also the reigning double European Champions. Big reputations have to be earned and defended, so, the Bann men now had twenty other opponents to contend with. Firstly, a time trial to reduce the 21 crews down to twelve. Bann duly won this and got a good middle lane for the semi-final where they recorded a massive eight second victory.
So far so good, and in the final itself, a fantastic rowing performance from the outstanding Bann pair, saw the Bann men leading from start to finish. Had water conditions been anything like reasonable, the course record would have been shattered, but although Bann were the only pair under the magic 7:00 minute mark, the course record survived by a mere 1.82 seconds !
The event organisers proved themselves true sportsmen when they allowed Bann to take the ‘Committee Cup’ home and out of England for the first time since its inception in 1973.
Now we return to Northern Ireland the very next day and the fabulous Olympic torch honour for the Club. Bann had organised a great regatta to provide young rowers from the province with the unique opportunity to race on this unique Olympic Torch day. The races provided were the Ulster Championship for MJ16 eights in The Craig Cup and the Ulster Championship for WJ18 eights for the Cookstown Cup. Under the training regime and management of Coach Geoff Bones, the Bann ladies crew had no less than three current Irish Internationals and despite an excellent effort from a very talented Methodist College crew, the Bann Ladies swept to a magnificent victory and the successful retention of the Cookstown Cup.
Bann captain Keith Leighton sincerely thanked the Methody girls who had made the event possible and thanked Mrs Jennifer Campbell, the mother of three time Olympian Alan, for graciously awarding everyone with their prizes. Keith continued: “The true prize for all these young rowing competitors, is that, for the rest of their lives, they will be able to say that they had raced to the best of their ability on the day when the Olympic flame actually crossed the Bann in a racing boat!”
The same sentiment applied to the younger boys, with racing eights from Methody, RBAI, Coleraine Inst and Bann providing 36 young men with memories to cherish for many years. Coach Jeremy Johnston said: “Anyone who rows at this Craig Cup level has trained very hard to gain selection and has coped with the stresses of combining this training with schoolwork, so each and every competitor has earned and deserves alot of respect even before the race starts.”
President Bobbie Platt MBE made the draw for the order of the boats to race the time trial. Bann recorded their fourth consecutive victory in a top quality final race against Coleraine Inst. Bobbie said: “Very good rowing overall and the best rowing crew was Bann. They held their finishes in better and that was the difference.” Bobbie also added that for nearly every rower here today, this could be the biggest crowds that they would ever get the chance to race in front of, and that he, just like everyone else, would enjoy, remember and cherish this special occasion.
Last words go to Bann’s Head coach Seamus. “Our Cox Jack Henry did a fantastic job for us, both here today, and in the four races over in Nottingham. His experience, excellent steering and making the right calls at the right time, gives us an extra length, every time,” said Seamus.