By Mike Dunne
Cian O'Connor rescued Ireland's hopes at the World Equestrian Games in North Carolina this evening with an immaculate round on Good Luck to book a place in tomorrow's team final on a day when it had looked as if further progress was slipping away from Rodrigo Pessoa's side.
Lying tenth coming into today's second round, the Irish needed to maintain that position to qualify but had dropped to 15th by halfway.
Shane Sweetnam and Chaqui Z, Ireland's best performers on Wednesday, made it an ominous start with nine faults, and it got worse when Shane Breen and Ipswich van de Wolfsakker's effort ended with 14 faults. Paul O'Shea and Skara Glen's Machu Picchu were unable to revive fortunes, dropping two poles, after which Ireland were four places off the required top-ten finish As Ireland's final rider O'Connor completely changed the complexion and with other teams losing way, the Irish climbed to 6th place at the finish.
Ireland go into tomorrow's team decider ten faults off the bronze position, but a top-six finish would earn a team place at Tokyo 2020.
O'Connor's clear puts him as a leading contender for an individual medal in fifth place. The individual final takes place on Sunday.