“I feel great and am raring to go,” he told thethis week. “I’ve been gradually working towards competing in Wiesbaden which is six weeks from my original injury.”
While absent from the saddle himself, the team at his Karlswood Stables operation have kept the equine element in shape. ““Ross (Mulholland) and Michael (Kelly) have kept my main horses ticking over nicely,” the London 2012 bronze-medalist said.
This weekend will be his first chance to compete with Irish-bred Cybell, a nine year-old mare previously ridden by British rider Jessica Dimmock. “I’m very excited about Cybel but the true test will be how we get on in competition. I’m hopeful that she will jump big classes this year.”
The return of O’Connor will be good news for Ireland’s team manager Rodrigo Pessoa as he looks to the country’s next Nations Cup qualifier in four weeks’ time in the Netherlands. “I have spoken to Rodrigo and put myself forward for selection for the Rotterdam team, all being well.”
O’Connor, who was out of action for the first two of Ireland’s six qualifiers, feels Pessoa has done well with his selections to date. “I think the team has done outstandingly well in our first two points-scoring nations cups at La Baule and Rome. It’s great that so many younger riders are getting the chance, as it broadens the pool. Rodrigo seems to have a plan and is not afraid to make hard calls or to stand up and be counted.”
Of great benefit to the manager, says O’Connor, is the new high performance committee under the chairmanship of former top rider and Chef d’Equipe Gerry Mullins. “As in any walk of life when everyone is pulling in the same direction the clear path to the finishing line seems to be easier to reach.”
The manager will face less pressure this week at St Gallen for the Swiss Nations Cup where Ireland are not competing for points. Bertram Allen, Richard Howley, Dermott Lennon, Anthony Condon and Mark McAuley are among those in the reckoning for the starting line-up.
Ireland have two experimental nations cup outings this weekend. Development manager Michael Blake will oversee a guest appearance in Langley, Canada this Friday. Among the riders for Ireland will be Daniel Coyle from Derry who rides for Canadian-based Lothlorien Farm, and who dominated the two-star meeting last weekend at Caledon, winning the Jumper Classic with Tienna and claiming second as well with Dillinger. Meanwhile Taylor Vard will take charge of the team guesting at Uggerhalne, Denmark.
Elsewhere Ireland welcomes a host of top international eventers at Tattersalls International Horse Trials in Co. Meath, with the action getting underway today and concluding on Sunday. Included is the latest round of the FEI Eventing Nations Cup, and Sally Corscadden takes charge of the Irish team for the first time since her appointment in February.
Mullingar Equestrian Centre host its tenth two-star international meeting over the bank holiday weekend, with €100,000 prize money on offer. The €24,600 Grand Prix takes place on Monday.
Everyone likes a fairytale ending where horses are concerned, and few retirements can have worked out as sweetly as last Saturday’s affair in Hamburg where Casall ASK was due to say farewell after the five-star Global Champions Tour Grand Prix. The GCT organisers had printed special handkerchiefs for fans to wave after the competition in which the 18 year-old bay stallion was to be ridden for the final time by long-time partner Swedish star Rolf-Goran Bengtsson. As it turned out they were one of only five pairings to qualify for the jump-off, and when last to go, blitzed home to win the event with over two seconds to spare.
“It can’t be a better end, that’s for sure”, said Bengtsson. “Today the feeling was the same as if he was 11 years-old or 18 years-old. The more public there is in the ring, the more he likes it.”