Being manager ‘not about being popular’, says Splaine

After seven years making sometimes difficult decisions, Robert Splaine is realistic to know his reappointment as Ireland show jumping manager may not be greeted with unanimous acclaim.

The Corkman’s return as team boss was announced by Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) on Wednesday, having convinced the interview panel of his “clear plan” for the team.

No doubt, the panel recalled that Splaine’s decision to select Cian O’Connor ensured Ireland its first Olympic show jumping medal and that Ireland finished third in the FEI Nations Cup League, following wins in Dublin — the first in eight years — and Hickstead. They certainly would have made a strong case for reappointment.

It must be remembered though that, initially, last year looked like closing out Splaine’s tenure on a downward trajectory. Firstly, there was the disappointment of not qualifying a team for the Olympics. Secondly, O’Connor’s selection came only after the controversy that saw Splaine and HSI withdraw Denis Lynch’s nomination when the Tipp rider’s horse was disqualified in Aachen, not to mention that Shane Sweetnam was many people’s preference to replace Lynch. Along with that, the team was anchored to the bottom of the FEI Nations Cup League until fourth in the Dutch leg heralded what proved a stunning revival.

It illustrates the vagaries of the sport facing any manager, who needs to be decisive, but also a diplomat attuned to the requirements of riders and owners, while always rising above the issue of personalities.

You could argue Splaine fulfilled these criteria and was solid when faced with adversity, adding to his reappointment credentials, though the flip side, he acknowledges, is that he might not always be every rider’s best friend.

“I have been fair, honest and impartial in my selections and I have every intention of applying that system in the future... It is not a question of being popular with the riders,” he said on Wednesday. “It is about being respected and making transparent selections. I believe the riders do respect me for that. We are talking about the flag here and I am very confident the riders will embrace that ideal,” added Splaine, whose first outing this year will be at the US nations cup on March 1 in Florida.

Splaine, who has been manager since 2005, had six rivals for the post and, following Eddie Macken’s controversial withdrawal, he underwent a second interview along with Jack Doyle and Cmdt John Ledingham on Monday. The interview was attended by new HSI chairman Patrick Wall, and the recommendation that Splaine be reappointed was accepted by the HSI board on Tuesday night.

“To come out ahead makes me confident going forward. It was a rigorous process. and I am delighted to receive the board’s endorsement,” said Splaine, having signed a four-year contract, which again includes a mid-term review.

UCD academic Wall said: “Robert had a clear plan as to how to maximise our results on what is a limited budget. He had the benefit of his experience over the others, and he has a roadmap to get us to Rio, but only time will tell.”

Splaine knows there is unfinished business in not getting a team to the Olympics and he will use the European Show Jumping Championships in Denmark next August to produce a “template” for qualification. Next year’s World Equestrian Games presents the first opportunity to book a place in Rio de Janeiro, with the 2015 European Championships the second opportunity. Horsepower, as always, will be a major determinant.

“We have seen Cian O’Connor sell his Olympic horse, Clem McMahon has lost the very promising Pacino, and Andrew Bourns has sold Roundthorn Madios; he was exceptional in Calgary for us. That is what we are up against, but our riders are professional and resourceful and they do want to compete in the Games and I am confident new combinations will come through,” said Splaine.

Meanwhile, Shay Lynch, the brother and manager of rider Denis Lynch, said it would be “hypocritical” for him to be selected for an Irish team.

“If Denis is considered too big a risk for the Olympics, we could not see how the chef d’equipe could consider him for the Irish team. There would be no logic to that decision,” said Shay.

“I would find it completely hypocritical for Horse Sport Ireland to consider him for the Irish team, as it would raise huge question marks as to why his nomination was withdrawn from the Olympics,” said Shay.

“Denis has always stated that he loves riding for Ireland. He is delighted with the way his year has gone so far and his immediate focus will be on the World Cup final in Gothenburg in April.”

It is worth noting, however, that Splaine facilitated Lynch’s qualification for the final, having allocated him a number of World Cup shows at the end of 2012.

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