Next Sunday in the French Nations Cup at La Baule, the Irish team will wear black armbands as a mark of respect to legendary show jumper Tommy Wade who exited the arena of life in his 80th year on Monday.
Ireland’s manager Rodrigo Pessoa says that this team will do everything in their power to win this weekend’s contest in Wade’s honour.
It won’t be easy. None of the opposition will yield an inch out of respect to the Irish - this is a competitive fixture in the top European division of the nations cup league, and countries are anxious for early-season points which will take the pressure off as the summer progresses and the world championships loom.
Yet it would be something special if an Irish victory could be fashioned, making it feel as if Irish show jumping was giving of its best to mark the passing of one of its greatest-ever exponents.
“Any of the nations cups are tough to win nowadays, “Pessoa told the Examiner yesterday.
“Even second teams that go to these events are tough. We don’t expect any giveaways. It will be difficult but the boys will have a special will to do really well this weekend for Tommy. The sport is what it is - if you win, you win, if you don’t, you don’t. We’ll try to do as much as we can to try to honour Tommy.”
Apart from the task of taking on France in their home fixture, Ireland will be up against tough challenges from Germany, Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland.
Also taking part will be Brazil and Canada who are not in the European league but can still have an impact, since points are awarded to the European teams according to their finishing positions among the eight teams competing, not just by where they finish in relation to one another.
The French fixture marked Pessoa’s competitive debut as Ireland manager last year, his team finishing third with victory going to the host nation.
After this weekend, the Irish team will have a break of almost two months before a hectic spell later in the summer.
“Having a good result here would give us a nice breather before we attack the month of July which is extremely full for us,” Pessoa said.
Ireland will face league qualifiers in Falsterbo, Sweden (July 15), Hickstead, UK (July 29) and Dublin (August 10) and will also take in the non-league but prestigious German show at Aachen (July 20).
“We have to be very smart with the way that we divide our horses so that we have good teams at every location,” said the manager. Though Aachen is no longer a league fixture, it will be an important venue in Pessoa’s plans, coming two months ahead of the world championships (WEG).
“It’s a nice cup to win, it’s good for morale and it would also be probably the last selection show for me before the WEG.”
The Irish riders hoping to score a win in Tommy Wade’s honour this weekend are Mark McAuley, Cameron Hanley, Paul O’Shea, and Shane Sweetnam, with Paul Kennedy as the fifth squad member.
Wade and Pessoa have something in common from an Irish perspective - they are the only two managers to have led the country to a European championship victory.
Wade did it in 2001, and Ireland had to wait 16 years for a repeat triumph, which Pessoa engineered last August.
During last year’s Dublin Horse Show Pessoa presented a specially commissioned medal to Wade at a Horse Sport Ireland ceremony to celebrate the achievements of former chefs d’equipe, Robert Splaine and Ned Campion getting honoured as well as Wade.
As a rider Wade won Grand Prix and nations cups all over the world. Perhaps his finest hour was when he won all the international classes at Dublin Horse Show in 1963, and it was his second clear round on Dundrum that clinched the Aga Khan trophy for Ireland, ending a 14-year wait for a home triumph.
One of the team that day was the late Seamus Hayes (Goodbye), whom Wade regarded as the greatest rider he had encountered.
Both partnered the same horses in another Aga Khan win in 1967.
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