Ireland’s showjumpers have won the Longines FEI Nations Cup Final on Sunday (6 October) and with it earned a hard-fought ticket to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
The Irish quartet of Peter Moloney (Chianti’s Champion), Paul O’Shea (Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu), Darragh Kenny (Balou Du Reventon) and Cian O’Connor (PSG Final) rose to the challenge — and brushed off the huge weight of pressure on their shoulders — to come home with a team total of just 1 penalty.
Ireland, crucially, finished ahead of Italy and Colombia with whom they were battling for Olympic qualification, so with that in the bag celebrations had already begun in earnest before the competition was over. The last time Ireland sent a showjumping team to an Olympic Games was Athens in 2004.
But with only one rider left to jump, the overall winner of the Nations Cup Final still hung in the balance. A clear from Gregory Wathelet on MJT Nevados S would ensure victory for Belgium but, riding down the final line, pressure told and a shock run-out from the horse handed the baton to Ireland. It marked a momentous day in Irish showjumping history.
“We had a clear objective to get the Olympic ticket here this week and all the riders fought really hard as it can all be over on the first day in this competition. It was mission accomplished,” said Rodrigo Pessoa, whose contract as Ireland’s team manager is coming to a close.
“We expected a tough fight from Italy and Colombia for that Olympic qualification, but as it went through the competition, it turned out we were up against the big teams, too – and won. They did it in style so hats off to our riders. I’m beyond delighted and really proud.”
Anchorman Cian O’ Connor who, like his team-mates was wearing an orange armband for injured showjumper Kevin Babington, added: “You don’t come here just to qualify — we came here to win.”
Belgium ended up in the runner-up position with Sweden finishing third.
Don’t miss the full report from the Longines FEI Nations Cup Final in next week’s issue of Horse & Hound, out Thursday 10 October.