This Thursday the premier event of the domestic rowing season, the Irish Rowing Championship, gets underway at the National Rowing Centre at Inniscarra Lake, Cork.

Over 1,800 rowers, making up 720 crews will compete over three days of racing, the highlight being the senior eight or Big Pot race which takes place on Saturday afternoon.

Reigning champions NUIG have linked up with the Grainne Mhaol team to form a composite crew, and with experienced senior eight winners Cormac Folan, James Wall and Alan Martin in the boat, this will be the crew to beat.

In no way will this diminish what promises to be a cracking race, with Queens, runners-up two years in-a-row by mere seconds, feeling that this must be their year.

The Queen’s crew includes Michael Ewing, Rory O’Connor and Colin Willliamson.

UCD will also fancy their chances and line out with a crew that includes old hands Finbar Manning, David Neale and Sean Jacob.

With four strong competing crews the line-up is completed by young emerging rowers from Trinity College.

In the single sculls, 17-year-old Paul O’Donovan of Skibbereen aims to become one of the youngest ever winners of the title.

O’Donovan will have to fight off strong challenges from Muckross sculler Sean Casey and John Keohane from Lee Valley, Cork. Just two weeks ago, Keohane beat O’Donovan into second place at the Cork city regatta.

Derry rower Laura d’Urso, home from her scholarship in the US, who has represented Ireland at international level, leads an entry of 11 in the women’s single sculls.

D’Urso will face stiff competition from up and coming Holly Nixon of Portora, Skibbereen’s Orla Hayes and Eimear Moran, Three Castles, Blessington.

Record numbers have entered the junior events with 50 in the under-15 race, 43 at under-16 level and 29 in the junior-18 race.