Last Sunday’s nations cup in Rotterdam did not involve the Irish team but the result will have a bearing on the country’s league standing up to and including the Aga Khan contest at Dublin Horse Show which is now just over six weeks away.
After the Dutch fixture, won handsomely by Belgium, Ireland lie in eighth place in the 10-team European elite division but have rounds ‘in hand’ over most of the other countries.
A clearer picture of the standings comes from averaging each countries points take so far which would show Ireland as fifth-best performers with three outings left.
The Dublin contest is perhaps seen by the Irish sporting public in general as the only nations cup that matters, something of which riders and management are well aware.
At least this year team boss Rodrigo Pessoa will not have a major championship coming right after the Aga Khan like he did last year when he spared some of the best combinations at Dublin and used them to terrific effect to win European gold in Gothenburg.
This year there is a full month between Dublin and the World Championships in North Carolina and Pessoa will be able to play a stronger hand in his bid for a home triumph.
First though, he has to negotiate two other nations cup league rounds, in Falsterbo, Sweden, and at Hickstead, UK, and Ireland will also take in the Aachen festival, the annual German showpiece which is no longer part of the nations cup league but is still one of the world’s prestige fixtures.
Dublin is the last round of the league, and how Ireland get on in the intervening two qualifiers will determine what they need to do in their home event as far as the league is concerned.
The main goal is to finish in the top seven of the ten-team division. That ensures qualification for the annual Nations Cup Final which takes place after the World Championships.
It would also mean they keep their elite division 1 status for next season, which is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is the new development that next year’s nations cup series will come with a bonus of one Olympic team place.
Up to now these spots were won through the World Championshiips and the pre-Olympic European Championships, but next year that extra opening will be much sought-after by any team that has by then not secured a Tokyo slot.
The last thing any of the top flight countries want is to finish last in the league, which would mean relegation to a lower tier. That prospect was hovering over Germany before the latest Rotterdam round but Otto Becker’s team managed a runner-up finish in what was the last of their five qualifiers, which should be enough to keep them safe for another year.
Ireland last won the Aga Khan in 2015 and the following year tied with Italy but lost out in a jump-off. USA won in 2017 and will be back to defend their title.
Ireland, France, Italy, Great Britain, Netherlands and Switzerland are the teams who will be competing for league points in Dublin, with the Italians and British probably needing big improvements based on their performances thus far.
Spain, who by then will have finished their fixtures (at Hickstead), are another struggling nation.
This weekend Monte Carlo welcomes the latest round of the Global Champions Tour, the ninth of the tour’s 15 rounds. Bertram Allen, Shane Breen, Michael Duffy, Michael G. Duffy, Denis Lynch and Mark McAuley are due at the Monaco location.
There is also a five-star affair at Knokke in Belgium, with Darragh Kenny and Shane Sweetnam representing Irish interest.
Liam O’Meara won the latest round of the national Grand Prix league at Charleville at the weekend riding Mr. Coolcaum, his second successive victory at the Cork venue.
The pairing now top the league table and the Tipperary rider also holds second place with Curraghgraigue Jack Take Flight.
“Hopefully we can get a few more points as the weeks go on and have a good result at the end of the league,” said O’Meara.
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