This Friday sees the Irish senior show jumping team in action at Hickstead for what will be their last competitive nations cup engagement before Dublin Horse Show.
The English fixture is important, being a league qualifier, and if Ireland do well enough, and secure their place in the annual nations cup final in Barcelona, they can come to Dublin with a certain amount of pressure off their backs.
Not that the pressure is particularly heavy — it would be a major surprise if Ireland don’t make the final. The third place finish in the last outing in Sweden two weeks ago put manager Rodrigo Pessoa’s team within touching distance of the points required. Another third place at Hickstead would clinch it, and it might not even require that much, depending on how their rivals fare.
One way or another, Pessoa would like to come to Dublin with the league situation already sorted, as he will be more concerned about this year’s most important target, the European Championships, which they will contest in Gothenburg, Sweden barely two weeks after Dublin.
“Obviously if we can get this out of the way in Hickstead it would be grand,” Pessoa told the Irish Examiner yesterday. “If not, we’ll try to put it to bed in Dublin.”
Of the four qualifiers contested to date, Ireland have finished third twice and joint-third once, the only blip being a share of fifth in Rotterdam. The manager believes these performances have set Ireland up for a qualifying slot for September’s final. “I think that we controlled the situation well until now,” he said.
“The (league) position is ok and if we can get it off our books this week in Hickstead it would be really great for everybody because what we have to think about is the European Championships. Everything we are doing, we are doing to be ready for that moment.”
The manager’s five-member squad for Hickstead features three of the combinations he has named in his provisional seven for Gothenborg. Shane Sweetnam (Chaqui Z), Daniel Coyle (Cita) and Shane Breen (Golden Hawk), are joined for Hickstead by Richard Howley (Chinook) and Richie Moloney (Carrabis Z). Sweetnam and Breen have each delivered double-clears for Ireland during the current campaign, Sweetnam in Sweden and Breen in France, while both scored valuable second-round clears to help Ireland to a joint-third finish in Italy.
Howley has appeared twice since Pessoa became manager, though neither of those occasions were league qualifiers for Ireland. One was in Switzerland in June where he had four faults in each round before going on to claim second in the Grand Prix, pipped at the finish by Ireland’s Bertram Allen.
The manager will name his final four tomorrow, and if selected, Coyle and Moloney will be making their first appearances under his tenure. Both compete regularly on the North American circuit, and both have done well when Ireland have ventured to that side of the Atlantic for guest appearances in top-level nations cups under Michael Blake, the most recent being at Langley in Canada two months ago when Coyle and Cita jumped double-clear. The young Derry rider, whose consistent performances over the last year have seen him enter the world’s top 50, is relishing the chance. “I’m really looking forward to it,” he said yesterday. “The mare is in really great form. She hasn’t jumped anything since the third week of Spruce Meadows so she’ll be well rested and ready to go.”
Coyle saidhe doesn’t think of getting nervous coming into such a big occasion. “Instead of getting nervous you try to get a little better focused. It’s good to be jumping for your home country. The more excited you get, hopefully the better you do.”
While Cita was resting, Coyle kept himself sharp by competing right up to Sunday, when he rounded off the weekend by claiming first and second place in the three-star AECON Jumper Classic in Ottawa, Canada with Tienna and Grafton respectively.
Eight teams will be in action at Hickstead, with France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain competing for points along with Ireland. Brazil and hosts Great Britain will also contest the event, but neither are part of Ireland’s league division and are therefore not competing for points.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved