IRISH rowing was in mourning earlier this month with the news of Tom Tuohy’s sad passing.
Tuohy (56), a native of Ballinrobe, was regarded as being one of the sport’s greatest coaches after he enjoyed tremendous success with University College Galway.
His first introduction to the sport also came when he started his studies in UCG in the mid 70s. He was to go on to transform the University into one of Ireland’s leading lights in the sport, turning them from also-rans into one of the most respected crews in Ireland.
Ralph O’Gorman, a well-known Galway-based sports broadcaster and keen rowing enthusiast, spoke last week of the impact Tuohy made during his time on College Road.
“I contend that Tom was the most successful coach in any sporting code in Galway sporting history in our lifetime. I remember a time when UCG, or NUIG, as they are now known, were not fit to compete never mind win the Wylie Cup. It took over a 100 years for the University to win a race.”
The Wylie Cup is Inter-Varsity rowing’s most coveted prize. It’s for eight-man crews and is the most demanding and testing of all the races. The Universities’ first ever win in any major race didn’t come until 1958 and when Tuohy took over as coach in the 1980s, they were still very much on the forgotten fringe of the competition circuit.
“From the time Tom took over, UCG rowing was transformed entirely from simply participating and attempting to be competitive to winning. And, in the end, becoming the single most feared and respected force in Irish University rowing. The transformation was incredible.”
Tuohy was born in Ballinrobe and attended Cregduff national school and the Christian Brothers before spending two years in St Jarlath’s College, Tuam.
He was strong and fit but had never competed seriously in team sports until he started his B Commerce degree in UCG. He and his brother Jim both took up rowing in the College and Tom was part of the 1975 Junior A ‘eight’ which made a big breakthrough.
He then turned to coaching after leaving the college, settling in the city where he would spend 38 years of his life as a successful self-employed businessman.
His success was simply breathtaking, beginning with the University’s first ever Wylie Cup title (a competition they would go on to dominate) and including outright National Championships in 1988, 2002, 2006, 2009 and 2010 with a combination of composite crews on three occasions and sole university crews on two.
“Picking out a single best achievement is difficult from all that,” said Ralph O’Gorman.
“But it should be highlighted that he proved himself on the world stage too, preparing teams for World Cups and Olympic Games. When the Irish eights qualified for the Beijing Olympics, two of Tom’s students were on board, Alan Martin and Cormac Folan.”
Other great days included NUIG victories at the world famous Henley Royal Regatta where the Galway crew won the Thames Cup in 1987 and the Visitors Cup in 2003 and 2005, plus bronze medals at European Under 23 Championships and a silver medal at the World University Rowing Championship. His most famous protege today may well be Olympian Folan, who emphasised last week that Tuohy had a ‘huge impact’ on the lives of those he had coached.
The man was typical of many coaches in a sport that O’Gorman compares to cycling or boxing for the incredible mental and physical exertions it can impose on its participants.
“Tom was determined, focused and single-minded. He had a very clear vision as to what he wanted. He took a rowing club from nothing and made them a power house. He rightly received Galway sporting awards for coach of the year, was honoured by the Galway City Council, and was recognised with an honorary degree in NUIG in 2007.”
Tom Tuohy came from a farming background in Cregduff, outside Ballinrobe, and became a national hero in the sport of rowing, leaving a permanent lasting impression on the countless rowers he coached over three decades at the helm.
His loss will be felt throughout the sporting community, but his legacy is one for his family and friends to be proud of.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis.