The Irish team has bounced back in remarkable fashion from a series of setbacks earlier this year, which had caused much disruption amongst the show jumping ranks.
If their performance in the Nations Cup at the Dublin Show this weekend was anything to go by, it looks as if the Irish Olympians could hit peak form at just the right moment – in Athens, next week.
Marion Hughes and travelling reserve Billy Twomey were the only riders to be competing their Olympic prospects; the latter scored a double clear on the stallion Luidam, and Marion Hughes with Fortunus made just one mistake in each round.
Billy Twomey (pictured) would naturally have been a leading Irish hope in Athens, but a minor injury to Luidam at Hickstead meant that the combination were unable to prove their fitness – the stallion has been off for most of the year following a Hobday operation.
The Irish campaign only really took off in the second round. The Belgians had got off to an early headstart with clear rounds from Marc van Dijk (Verelst Roxanne) and Koen Vereecke (Qualite vd Begijnakker) leaving them on just four penalties.
France, Italy, Ireland and the USA sat just behind them on eight faults, with Great Britain in sixth place following an upset for Robert Smith and Marius Claudius, who crashed through the course, accumulating 16 faults.
But as is so often the way, the result depended on sustaining a high level of performance in the second round of the competition, and it fell to the lot of Ireland, who produced an impressive three clear rounds, to stay on their first round tally of eight.
France managed to sit tight in second place, with just four faults to add, while Britain hoisted themselves up three places into equal third with a brilliant double clear from Nick Skelton (Arko). Robert Smith pulled his socks up to produce a clear round following his earlier disaster, and Scott Smith incurred just four faults. They were joined by the USA, who notched up a further eight faults.
Meanwhile Belgium suffered the indignity of dropping into the lower half of the leaderboard when their challenge disintegrated. Italy were similarly humiliated, as the poles rattled in the second round and their 32 fault total left them in seventh. But the Netherlands never recovered following their first round problems, and they brought up the rear.
With just one Samsung Super League Nations Cup remaining, in Barcelona in one month’s time, the leaderboard as it stands leaves room for some exciting competition to come. While France are sitting pretty more than ten points ahead of their nearest rival, Britain, in second, is only 0.2 of a point ahead of Germany.
Italy’s position, on ten points at the bottom of the table, looks irretrievable. Their recent performances can have done little to allay fears that the country faces relegation.