MEDALS and a place in the record books were the order of the day as the Thomastown Paddlers dominated the Liffey Descent on Saturday.
Now in its 52nd offering the Descent, which ran from Straffan, Co Kildare to Islandbridge, Dublin, is one of the highlights of the Irish canoeing calendar. The 18 mile course contains a large number of obstacles including 10 weirs, numerous rapids and a portage or running section to bypass a dam.
The highlight of this year’s race came in the competitive men’s senior K1 class, the event’s blue riband category. Michael Brennan, who has had a fantastic season with success at home and abroad, continued his fine run of form on the Liffey. After a great start Brennan surged into the lead and maintained his advantage for the entire 18 miles, avoiding capsizes at all obstacles. He finished the race with over 90 seconds to spare over his nearest competitor to secure the gold medal. There was an extra bonus for Brennan, who also broke the course record by more than a minute. He smashed the time of 1.55.37 set by Irish Olympian Gary Mawer, a record which had stood for 11 years.
Other Paddlers to compete in the class were Anthony Forristal and Donnacha Brennan. Forristal had a clean run down with no capsizes, a performance which saw him take the bronze medal. Brennan was more unfortunate, capsizing three times over the course of the race, but recovered well to finish strongly in fifth position.
In the K2 classes (double racing boats) Thomastown had two boats in the water. Martin Walsh and Jimmy Ryan competed in the men’s senior class, finishing in the middle of the field despite a number of capsizes. In the junior class Alex Broderick and Eamon Forristal had a strong start, but technical difficulties at the second weir forced them to retire early.
The K3 class, which is run exclusively in the Liffey Descent, had just one Thomastown boat involved. Previous medal winners Paul Forristal, Kieran Varley and Cáit Broderick, who has just returned from the World Marathon Championships in Rome, teamed up to compete in this event. This crew had a great race, despite difficulties with steering and a capsize.
The action continued into the touring kayak double class, one of the biggest divisions in this race. Despite being restricted to wider, slower boats this class is extremely competitive, with a large British contingent typically dominating. David McCormack and Dermot Forristal teamed up for the second year running in this class, improving on their 10th place last year to finish sixth in 2012.
The general purpose (GP) class is also a large division in this race, with two Thomastown competitors involved this year. Finbar O’Donovan and Gavin Whitehead both had strong races, finishing near the top of the large field. Another typically large class is the Touring Canadian class, in which David Comerford and Justin Walsh competed. These boats are very tricky to manage over the numerous obstacles, with the Thomastown crew performing strongly. With the Liffey Descent over, the season is now drawing to a close with only two races remaining. One of these is the Barrow Descent, run by Thomastown Paddlers, which will be held on Saturday, October 13.
The final race of the year will be held a week later on the Grand Canal in Robertstown, Co Kildare.