Ten years ago this month, Ireland and the sailing world watched in awe as a young athlete from Rathfarnham in Dublin appeared to walk away with the women’s single-handed event of the Weymouth Olympic sailing regatta.
But it was not to be the dream ending and tears of heartbreak ended this event until four years later in Rio when Annalize Murphy won her silver medal.
Hundreds of young Irish girls and boys watched the whole time and were touched by what has come to be known as the ‘Annalize Effect’.
One of those sailors was Eve McMahon from Howth, the youngest of three siblings, all of proven talent and all Olympians in their own right.
A decade after Murphy won the “Leather Medal” in London in 2012, McMahon formulated her own startling statement of intent.
In just five weeks, the 18-year-old won a hat-trick of youth championship gold medals in the ILCA6, formerly known as the Laser Radial, the boat that carried Murphy through the ups and downs of peak performance.
McMahon won the ILCA6 World Youth Championship title in Italy in 2021 and after a winter with few opportunities to compete due to the Covid pandemic he again won the Irish Sailing Youth National Championships in Ballyholme.
Then she took her Leaving Cert.
And after that she won the European class title in Greece, followed immediately by gold at the World Youth Sailing Championships in The Hague and then went to Texas to defend her 2021 title.
At each event her form steadily improved to a level rarely seen with a string of race wins and top finishes. Inevitably there were a few shockers, those bad days that many top sailors encounter in a series and the reason sailing events are decided over up to a dozen races to make up for the odd bad day or two.
But her bad days became less frequent and at the World Championships in Houston last week she won the first six races and the first two races of the last day.
Her worst finish of the series was a fourth. In a fleet of 50 boats.
The intensity of the five-week program only began to kick in when she arrived Monday after a sleepless flight from Texas to Ireland.
“It was a wonderful welcome home not only for me but for the whole team, but now I just plan to sleep and spend time with my family,” she told the Irish Examiner.
This family experience will likely include a debriefing with her brothers Jamie and Ewan, who both fight at the senior level in full-rig laser ILCA7.
What will these sessions look like?
“I have to give them credit, they analyzed the videos of my races and gave me feedback… more like siblings than coaches and I do my best but we have a great relationship.”
As she bids farewell to her youth career, she is also thinking about her next steps, which start in three weeks with the ILCA6 Under 21 Worlds in Portugal.
Moving up the age group will not come as much of a shock to the system as she readily indicates that she has previously sailed events at senior level.
However, she is well aware of the transition to the older and more experienced fleets.
“The senior fleet is much tighter – every little mistake means a big drop in the overall standings so it’s very tough mentally,” she says.
Her depth of knowledge is already proving itself, although competition and progression through the age groups is vital, according to Irish sailing head coach Rory Fitzpatrick, who has been with Murphy from the start of her senior career.
That career got off to a promising start, but with nothing quite like the gold medal hat-trick McMahon just delivered.
“Every once in a while, really good sailors come along and do what she (Eve) did,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve been at this for quite a while and can’t remember anyone who has.”
McMahon sailed at senior level in the ILCA6 European Championships last year and finished 15th overall so she is already well known in the class.
As for the next steps, Fitzpatrick points to the resource of experienced and proven sailors with whom she is already training.
“We’re not increasing the intensity, but we’re changing the environment a bit and having the right people around them with experienced help,” he said.
Ahead of Tokyo 2020, McMahon was already heavily involved in the training group which included Murphy alongside Denmark’s Anne-Marie Rindom, who won gold in Japan, as well as Aoife Hopkins, another of the current group of talented sailors is from the Howth Yacht club emerged.
“Eve added a great dynamic that was very welcome in the group and she was a great fit,” Fitzpatrick said.
With Murphy’s retirement from Olympic competition, this group now has the world’s best sailor Vasileia Karachalou of Greece taking its place, now training from Performance HQ base in Dun Laoghaire.
“There is a great common purpose – we all need each other and want to work together; We are very open and (the sailors) are not rivals although they compete against each other.”
Though McMahon’s star is rising quickly, her guiding star remains Ireland’s ‘Silver Sailor’ who has so profoundly influenced a generation of talent.
In addition to insisting on sailing Murphy’s boat at the training center, the Howth girl also speaks using similar phrases and expressions as the “Annalise Effect” totally inspired her.
And that’s likely to continue into September, when Murphy will step in as interim coach while the full Ireland single-handed squad focuses on the next European Seniors Championships in November.