Support for Greg Broderick should not prevent critical analysis

While it is only right that anyone passionate about equestrian sport should have given total support to Greg Broderick this week in the Olympics, it must be accepted that he failed to put up any meaningful challenge, writes John Tynan
Support for Greg Broderick should not prevent critical analysis

After seeing our eventers rise to the occasion with a super dressage display, only to fade on the cross-country, equestrian fans looked to Broderick to deliver the glory they genuinely believe Ireland deserves.

It was not to be and there are some who will say “I told you so”, that Broderick was the wrong man for Rio.

That’s understandable, particularly as he was a shock selection by Ireland manager Robert Splaine, ahead of Cian O’Connor, Denis Lynch, and Bertram Allen, but it would be wrong to take satisfaction in the Tipperary rider’s ineffectual effort with MHS Going Global. While it is right that the performance should be scrutinised, I have no doubt he tried his best - he had a lot to prove - and does not deserve to be pilloried.

Fundamentally, the issue here is that, rather than Broderick failing, it is that Broderick failed to deliver on high hopes and that he did so from the first round left us deflated. Thus, more than his inability to challenge for a medal, it was the fact he did not get beyond the second round of the five-round competition and finished in 50th place.

Ireland manager Robert Splaine afterwards said he stood over his selection of Broderick “100%”. To say otherwise would have admitted he got it wrong and that was unlikely to happen.

“I had to work off specific criteria and timelines and I selected an outstanding combination at that time and, since then, he has proved at five-star level to be in great form,” said Splaine, who added that Broderick “was not out of place” in Rio.

He also said it was “unfortunate” that he had two fences down in the double during the opening qualifier. In effect, he says Broderick was unlucky. Does luck play a part, and, if yes, how much? If Broderick and MHS Going Global were jumping well, was it purely bad luck that they had scores of eight and five in both qualifiers and does the same apply to other competitors. In general, I’m not convinced that is the case.

It is instructive, by way of comparison, to examine how Ireland’s only Olympic show jumping medal, a bronze, was claimed by O’Connor in London. Luck, or fate, call it what you will, played a part. O’Connor scored 0/8/12 in the qualifying rounds, leaving him just outside those progressing to the final. Then, he found himself in the decider when Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson was forced to withdraw his horse Casall. Definitely a case of a cloud with a silver lining, but O’Connor seized his opportunity and went on to produce a double clear to become unique in Irish show jumping.

As such, I stand over my opinion that O’Connor should have carried Irish hopes in Rio. Not that his horse Good Luck is so much better than MHS Going Global, but purely because of the Meath-based rider’s experience of the big occasion and the many times he has dealt with the pressure that comes with filling the anchor position on the Irish team. As such, his non-selection was a wasted opportunity.

It was interesting, too, to read a hard-hitting article by former Horse Sport Ireland press officer Colin McClelland in his new venture, the internet/facebook site We Live Horse. It has garnered huge negative reaction: Irish equestrian fans support their riders through thick and thin, which is admirable, but does it come at a cost of critical analysis?

On his Facebook page, Billy Twomey carried a link to the story, saying: “Whoever is responsible for instructing Colin McClelland to write this article ought to be pretty ashamed of themselves.”

Darragh Kerins also came out in support of Broderick: “Only in Ireland would a article like this even be posted. Congrats to all who made it to Rio. Top job to Greg Broderick.”

It was disappointing, however, that HSI did not carry a comment from Broderick in their press release after Tuesday’s second round and then refused a request to procure one. Broderick could not be contacted, personally.

In dressage, Judy Reynolds acquitted herself extremely well with Vancouver K, making the final 18. While she finished last on the day, it was felt in many quarters that this was not a reflection of her performance (see below). She was readily available for comment after each competition and was always pragmatic. Importantly, while Vancouver K is now aged 14, the German-based rider feels there is further improvement.

The highlight of the eventing performance was provided by Jonty Evans and Cooley Rorkes Drift, plus a dressage display by the team that left them in fifth place going into the cross-country. The latter ended the dream start, but you could argue the Irish were compromised by the fall of pathfinder Padraig McCarthy. If Ireland were to continue in the competition, each rider had to complete the course - rated one of the most difficult Olympic tests ever, with 16 eliminated - at all costs. Ultimately, Evans finished with a jumping clear, but he picked up time faults that ended his hopes of a medal, which one could argue were realistic. Another brilliant clear in show jumping left him in 9th place and wondering what could have been, as the team placed a disappointing eighth of the 13 teams. Notably, Evans - who was also generous with his time for comment - was effuse in his praise of his fellow Briton and Ireland manager Nick Turner, saying: “He is positive, supportive, organised and he has untold belief in our squad of riders, both here in Rio and the other riders back home. He has employed a team of coaches and support staff that all believe in the squad too. They have all done a great job of improving technical standards. He is also working incredibly hard to put in place systems that encourage talent and ability to flourish within the squad. He has achieved a great deal and I sincerely hope that he is able to push those systems and ideas forward to encourage fresh young talent and support old buggers like me! He deserves unanimous support.”

Evans also promised to bring home a championship medal in the future

As for the future in terms of show jumping, one issue needs to be addressed: This is the third Olympics Ireland has not qualified a team. That has to be corrected. Whether Splaine is the man to do so could turn out to be an academic question, as it quite possible he will be replaced, either by stepping down or by HSI opting for someone new.

Asked on Tuesday of his plans, Splaine said: “I’m not interested in discussing that. Anything to do with my contract, I will debate that at the relevant time.”

If you were to compile a school report for the three disciplines.

Dressage: Travelled to Rio on the back of some solid displays that saw Reynolds frequently set new Irish records. She exceeded expectations and is changing the opinion abroad that Irish riders are not dressage riders.

Eventing: Did well to again qualify a team for the Games, but the test highlighted more work is required if they are to make the grade at the top end. Manager Nick Turner seems to have a winning mentality. Is it enough?

Show jumping: Broderick had potential with MHS Going Global to give a good account of himself, but lacked the savvy to realise his goal. That championship potential remains untapped.

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