Right from the opening round, when Daniel Coyle and Cita, the first pairing to test the course, came home with eight faults, an Irish retention of the contest looked in doubt, even though three other countries saw their first riders suffer the same damage.
By halfway, only struggling Mexico were carrying more faults than Ireland, but with the USA faring no better, there was hope of some redemption.
Sure enough, as so often happens, nations cups can be games of two halves, and the Irish showed they were not taking the midway situation lying down. Second time out Coyle kept the damage to one pole at the awkwardly-placed double that followed the water jump.
Paul O’Shea (Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu) cleared everything but the water, and third Irish rider Darragh Kenny looked to be delivering a clear at last on Go Easy de Muze but the last fence saw a pole tumble.
In the meantime, things were going wrong for Germany, who had shared the halfway lead with Canada.
Their second pairing were eliminated, Christian Heineking’s Nkh Caruso refusing twice at the water. When the third German rider Markus Beerbaum incurred 12 faults on Cool Hand Luke, a window opened for Ireland who now had a chance of a third-place finish.
In stepped Cian O’Connor and Clenur to finally give Blake’s team a zero-fault round, and while they didn’t take third outright, they got to share it with the Americans on a 24-fault total.
Canada were clear winners, getting two double-clears on the way to an eight-fault total, with Brazil claiming second, a further eight faults behind.
Quite a contrast with what happened a day earlier in Abu Dhabi at the weekend’s other nations cup, where Ireland were denied victory by a New Zealand team all of whose riders are ranked outside the world’s top 250.
It was an inspired effort by the Kiwis who had never won at this level before.
The Irish team of Cameron Hanley (Aiyetoro), David Simpson (Keoki), Paul Kennedy (Cartown Danger Mouse), and Shane Breen (Laith) looked to have the contest in the bag but New Zealand never let go and a second clear by last rider Samatha McIntosh (Check In) saw them grab a share of top spot on 12 faults.
McIntosh won the subsequent jump-off against Shane Breen, making history for the Kiwis and leaving Ireland wondering what might have been after a performance which included a double-clear from Simpson.
“We had opportunities to win in the second round but it just didn’t happen,” said Taylor Vard, who took charge of the Irish team for the event.
The nations cup stakes get higher for Ireland at the end of April when Rodrigo Pessoa takes command as Samorin in Slovakia hosts the first of Ireland’s five nations cup qualifiers, with the remainder taking place over the summer in France (La Baule), Sweden (Falsterbo), UK (Hickstead), and the Dublin Horse Show.
In the meantime, the next nations cup engagement for the Irish comes on March 4 in Wellington, Florida. Ireland Development manager Michael Blake will be in charge of the team again, and, in this event as well, Ireland are defending champions.
The double Blake engineered last year (Ocala and Wellington) is not repeatable now but he expects to have a strong team in place to hopefully retain the latter.