With just over a month to go on his contract, Robert Splaine received a glowing endorsement from the Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) chief executive yesterday.
Damian McDonald said Splaine had “made a huge contribution to Irish show jumping, both as a rider and in his last seven years as chef d’equipe.
“He’s been an absolutely fantastic ambassador for Ireland at every international show he’s been at and he’s done a superb job in... moulding a team. The key to that is that he’s a fair, independent-minded chef d’equipe. He always takes the job seriously. He has no favourites and he does the job fairly and equitably and he is respected around the world,” said McDonald, a member of the interview panel that will decide if Splaine retains his post or is replaced.
McDonald was speaking at reception hosted by the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr John Buttimer, to laud the achievements of Splaine and Ireland’s show jumpers, notably in winning the nations cup at this year’s Dublin Horse Show.
McDonald also referred to the “fantastically talented riders in Ireland” but stressed the importance of horse owners in maintaining Ireland’s competitiveness on the world stage.
Cian O’Connor was on the winning Dublin team and was also present yesterday with his Olympic medal to complement the Aga Khan Trophy, reputedly making its first visit to Cork.
To ride on the Irish team is “very special” he said, before he listed some of the successes achieved under Splaine, including the victories in the German Nations Cup in Aachen, and French equivalent in La Baule, before he rested on Dublin.
“It’s a ‘scéil eile’ to win in front of your home crowd,” he said.
With HSI having applied for €5m from the Horse and Greyhound fund O’Connor spoke of the need for greater financial support for the sector, particularly in terms of prizemoney. Referring also to the achievements of our eventers and underage riders, he said: “We have the success and we have the talent, and we need to capitalise on that.”
Afterwards, however, he added: “Funding is a major part of it, but it must be combined with the expertise to strategically plan the road to Rio.”
Splaine paid tribute to horse owners: “They never seem to receive the recognition they deserve and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”
Having selected O’Connor for the Olympics, Splaine spoke of the rider’s “horsemanship, experience, mental strength and sheer brilliance on the wonderful little horse Blue Loyd that brought home the medal we craved for years... the only medal for Ireland outside of boxing”.
He said he is confident Ireland can continue to compete at the very top.
“We now have the blueprint for major successes up to and including Rio 2016, where I am convinced we can win even more medals.”
McDonald also highlighted interesting data revealed in a study due for publication soon. He said the equestrian sector is worth €700m to the economy, with 47,000 people regularly involved, 29,000 people deriving some income from it and 12,000 earning a full-time salary.
The Lord Mayor stressed the importance of the equestrian industry and said the city council was looking at including an eventing/show jumping centre in its development of the former landfill site at the Kinsale Rd Roundabout near the city.
Meanwhile, HSI has called meetings of international show jumpers and eventers to help it define the role of the team managers and to determine the riders’ requirements for the high-performance programme.
Organisation of the meetings comes after HSI employed a recruitment company to help it fill the managers’ positions, currently held by Splaine and Ginny Elliot.
In terms of show jumping, every rider that jumped on a nations cup team in 2011 and 2012 has been invited to the December 3 meeting and HSI chief McDonald expects “a good turnout”.
The riders will, firstly, gather among themselves for discussions in the morning. This will be followed by an afternoon meeting with HSI, to be chaired by chairman Joe Walsh. The meeting will also involve Mark O’Donnell, from recruitment specialists Amrop Strategis.
The HSI meeting for eventers takes place next Tuesday.
Referring to the show jumping position, McDonald said: “The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the high-performance structures and to define the job description of the team manager.”
While you would expect HSI to have an of idea of what is required in a manager, McDonald said: “We want to get the riders’ input. What we are trying to achieve is how can we add value to the chef’s/manager’s role. For example, we will be asking riders if they see the job as one requiring more liaising with owners, is it a selection role, is it more of a planner, a communicator, do they require someone who is a fantastic coach, and what qualities they would like to see in the manager.”
Splaine’s current contract ends on December 31, but he has indicated he wants to remain as manager. Among the contenders are Eddie Macken, Cmmdt John Ledingham, James Kernan and possibly Jack Doyle.
Elliot also wants to continue to lead the Irish team.
McDonald said the posts will be advertised in the coming weeks.
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