A MOMENT IN TIME The late Paul Giblin (left) is pictured lifting the Men’s Senior 8 + National Championship trophy at the National Rowing Centre in Inniscarra, Co. Cork in July 2006. Lifting the trophy with Paul was Ruadhán Cooke.
I WAS only getting to know Paul Giblin in 2010 when I drove out to Oughterard to watch the end of a stage in that year’s An Post Rás. The stage was one of the tougher ones, won by Cong native David O’Loughlin who managed to hold off emerging world star John Dagenkolb at the end.
Paul came in at the head of the second group after a pulsating day of racing where he spent most of the time in among the lead group of contenders. In theory, a novice in his mid 20s, who had taken up the sport just a couple of years earlier, should struggle in a race of that magnitude but Paul was always a little bit more interested in the practical over the theory.
His goal was always to test himself in the most extreme competitive environments in a bid to find the breaking point.
In an odd sort of way, ‘breaking point’ was where he probably felt most comfortable in life, he must have reached it on each of his 19 national rowing titles. That was his first sport.
That day in Oughterard, I saw for myself how he had made himself at home in a whole new environment, becoming a leading light in his Galway Bay team of underdogs in just his second year riding competitively.
Yet while his team-mates were blown away by his performance, he arrived back at the team car frustrated. He knew he wasn’t far off the main group and he was already contemplating how he could get better.
The following morning he and his team-mates led the bunch through Galway in the early part of stage four, a few days later he finished within two minutes of the leaders on Seskin Hill in Tipperary.
It was a fine first effort and, by the end of the 2010 season, he had ridden in the national championship and spent time in a breakaway group with some of Ireland’s leading pros — all wondering where that ‘blonde-haired fella with the ankle socks’ had come from.
Paul passed away this summer at the age of 34 after an outrageously courageous five-year battle with cancer, or more accurately, ‘Refractory Hodgkin’s Lymphoma’. His story warrants a level of detail and depth that a sporting highlight article couldn’t do justice to, but let’s just say that he has left family, friends, army comrades and team-mates with a treasure trove of memories.
A group of his former rowing teammates helped bring him to the fore for my sporting highlight of 2017 though.
In the Autumn, they got together over a beer to discuss creating something that would honour Paul’s legacy in sport and within the NUIG rowing club in particular — where he rowed with such distinction before successfully turing to coaching after his illness struck. The result of that discussion was a new bursary award that would celebrate and honour some of the most compelling characteristics Paul brought to the sport and his life.
The Paul Giblin Award has both financial and ancillary supports. The recipient will receive a bursary of €2000 and support service from the NUIG Sports Unit, similar to those offered on the current NUIG scholarship.
Young Corkonian club member, Georgina Deane, was the inaugural recipient and presented with the award at a brilliantly-organised event in the Salthill Hotel.
Guests included Paul’s wife Cate, parents Helen and John, sisters Anne-Marie and Geraldine and extended family and friends. Also in attendance were members of the rowing community in Galway, Mike Heskin and Kathy Hynes of the NUIG Sports Unit and former NUIG president, Iognáid (Iggy) Ó Muircheartaigh.
Standing there listening to the speakers, it occurred to me how meaningful and helpful such a gathering could be to those who were grieving his loss. Those who organise or simply attend such commemorative events can often underestimate that element, I certainly have in the past and this was an eye-opener. I will follow this award announcement avidly each year from now on.
During the night we learned about Georgina’s contribution to the club, both on the water and off it, her tireless pursuit of excellence, and her curiosity at the limits of endurance that the human body can stretch itself to before reaching that not-to-be-feared ‘breaking point’ zone.
Everyone there knew only too well that this was the kind of athlete Paul would have been proud to have had his name associated with.
In so many ways, his efforts on land and water were all worth it.