Byrne gives Team Ireland solid start

Eilish Byrne’s spirits were high yesterday afternoon after placing seventh of 23 riders on the first day of the London Paralympics.

The Armagh-based Dundalk woman scored 67.714% with Youri, which she said was close to her expectations.

“I am a happy girl,” she said with a laugh. “To be honest, I was quite worried about the crowd, as he is a sharp cookie. The beginning of the test did not flow and he tripped, but the second part of the test went well and there was loads of clapping and cheering as we left the arena and, of course, he didn’t bat an eyelid.

“The fact we are seventh after 23 riders is a good achievement and my goal would have been to finish in the top 10, as the quality of the horses and riders we are competing against is absolutely phenomenal,” said Byrne, a spina bifida sufferer, who finished eighth as an individual at Beijing in 2008, and was the first Irish para-rider to win a four-star international event, at Kreuttal in Austria five years ago.

“The score is not as good as we could have achieved, based on recent performance, but considering it is the Paralympics I am very happy.”

The 48-year-old said the Paralympics is the last outing for her 16-year-old Dutch-bred gelding Youri and she is aiming to go out on a high.

“He is retiring after this and probably myself as well. I would dearly love to continue, but such are the costs, I would find it very difficult to find a replacement for him,” said Byrne, giving credit to team trainer Donie McNamara, her own coach Niall Quirk, and ParaEquestrian Ireland

Paralympic dressage is graded on five levels, depending on the level of disability: 1a, 1b, II, III and IV, with Byrne competing at Grade II level.

The second round of the team event takes place today, with James Dwyer and Orlando on at 10.56am in the Grade IV, followed by Geraldine Savage, riding Blues Tip Top Too, at 4.01pm, and Helen Kearney and Mister Cool at 5.11pm, both taking part in the Grade 1a.

Following today’s team tests, the riders move onto their individual championships tests tomorrow and Sunday, followed by the individual freestyle competitions on Monday and Tuesday.

The Irish quartet were left disappointed when finding out a month ago that expected individual funding would not be forthcoming. While Byrne declined to comment on the matter, she did say: “I received funding from Sport Northern Ireland and without it, I would not have been able to manage. They funded my training and day-to-day expenses.”

She played down chances of team glory, saying: “We are currently ranked eighth in the world as a team and, realistically, to finish a place or two above that would be great.”

However, she felt her team-mates were worth a bet in the battle for individual glory.

Geraldine, Helen and James have the potential and could be in the running for a medal, it just depends on how they perform on the day.”

lSports Minister Leo Varadkar has set a four-year term for the position of chairman of Horse Sport Ireland (HSI), which has been held by former agriculture minister Joe Walsh since the governing body’s inception in 2006.

The Irish Examiner revealed last December that, in what Mr Varadkar considered a serious breach of governance, no length of tenure for the chairman’s post had been incorporated into HSI’s memorandum and articles.

A statement from Mr Varadkar’s office said: "The term of chairperson of Horse Sport Ireland has now been set at four years.

“The term of the current chairman, Joe Walsh, will expire on 31 December 2012.

“A chairperson has not yet been nominated for the next term, which will run from 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2016. The Minister, in consultation with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine [Simon Coveney], will nominate a chairperson in due course.”

Mr Varadkar must nominate the choice to the board of HSI.

The minister’s spokesman said “no decision has been made yet on setting a fixed number of terms” for the chairman's position, so it is unknown if Walsh can be returned to the position. The Corkman declined to comment on whether he wished to continue as chairman.

Documentation released to the Irish Examiner under the Freedom of Information Act showed that in 2010, Mr Walsh wrote to then Sports Minister Mary Hanafin suggesting “that as Horse Sport Ireland has now bedded down, it would be appropriate to fix a term for the chairmanship” and “that an appropriate term... would be four years to coincide with the Olympic cycle”.

HSI was established in 2006 on an interim basis by Fianna Fáil’s then Minister for Agriculture Mary Coughlan and then Sports Minister John O’Donoghue, becoming the national governing body for equestrian sport in 2008. It was envisaged that it would be a statutory body, but ultimately was set up as limited company.

Mr Varadkar, in a letter last December to Mr Walsh, noted that he was “a little concerned about Horse Sport Ireland’s description of itself as a ‘government established agency’. While this is technically correct, it is misleading and one might easily make the mistake of thinking that it is a government of [sic] public body, when it is not”.

lShowjumpingIreland was yesterday trying to find an alternative venue for its TRM Premier Series and TRM National Grand Prix finals after Newcastle Show, Co Wicklow, was postponed “due to the weather”, according to a spokesman.

Newcastle is now scheduled to run on Sept 29/30th, but SJI’s National Competitions Committee are looking at which of two shows in the next fortnight is best suited to staging the finals.

Tholm Keane leads the TRM/SJI Premier Series on 39 points, five more than Eddie Moloney, who picked up eight points at last weekend’s two-star international Kilmeague Show, held in Coilog Equestrian Centre, Co Kildare, when second to Tyrone’s Frank Curran.

However, with points-and-a-half available in the final, any of the top four — which includes Clem McMahon and Conor Swail, third and fourth, respectively — has a mathematical chance of winning.

Greg Broderick cannot be caught in the TRM National Grand Prix Series.

Newcastle Show, meanwhile, is due to stage the second leg of the Gain/Alltech Autumn Grand Prix League.


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