It’s the first of six qualifiers to be contested by the Irish in the Europe Division 1 league, the last of which will be the Aga Khan competition in Dublin on August 11th.
“We have two or three months of tough competition ahead of us,” the manager said when announcing his squad for the fixture. In the overall scheme of things the league will play an important part in the main goal for Pessoa which is success in major events such as the European Championships, World Equestrian Games (WEG) and Olympics Games.
The Europeans take place in late August in Sweden, but the WEG come a year later so Pessoa insists that doing well in the league this year is important to ensure Ireland compete at the highest level again next term.
“We have to maintain ourselves in the Nations Cup series because we need those (Division 1) shows next year to prepare for the WEG.”
A good showing in the league comes with the added benefit of qualification for the annual Nations Cup Final in September, which will feature teams who qualify from other divisions worldwide. Last year, Ireland, managed by Robert Splaine, finished second in Division 1 and went on to place fifth in the final.
The French contest will be Pessoa’s second time in charge of an Irish team since his appointment earlier this year, having taken charge of a league fixture at Lummen, Belgium two weeks ago.
But that was not one of Ireland’s qualifiers and he chose to give more experience to young riders Paul Kennedy, Michael Duffy and Richard Howley, all of whom handled the occasion admirably.
Duffy, from Galway, has been given a swift recall with Belcanto Z for this more competitive occasion. “At the start of the year I’d never have dreamt to be on the teams that I am,” said Duffy after the squad announcement. “My horse is in the form of his life. Hopefully we can keep the results coming.”
He joins Tipperary riders Kevin Babington (Shorapur), Shane Breen (Golden Hawk) and Denis Lynch (All Star), as well as Corkman Shane Sweetnam (Chaqui Z) in the five-member squad.
Of the eight teams at La Baule, seven including Ireland are competing for league points, so it will be no easy day for Pessoa’s team. The French have predictably announced a strong squad, and Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland will all be seeking to maximise their haul of league points from the contest.
Pessoa seems confident his team can give a good account of themselves at this French showpiece but he remains realistic about the frequently fickle nature of show jumping. “Everything has to come together on the day. You need a little bit of luck as well, but you can’t rely on luck. Luck has to be the last little thing.”
In Norway this Friday Ireland are also in team action at Drammen in a lower-level Nations Cup, with Michael Blake overseeing a squad composed of Alexander Butler (Hallowberry Cruz), Shane Carey (Quantum KS), Cameron Hanley (Quirex), Capt. Geoff Curran (Ringwood Glen) and Mark McAuley (Utchan De Belheme).
Ireland are there on an invitational basis, but will be up against teams chasing league points in this Division 2 fixture, including Great Britain who were relegated from Division 1 last year.