Ireland eventing manager Nick Turner was anything if not confident yesterday, with not a scintilla of doubt that his selection for the Olympics can live up to the expectation that permeates Irish eventing these days.
He named Clare Abbott (Euro Prince), Jonty Evans (Cooley Rorkes Drift), Mark Kyle (Jemilla), and Padraig McCarthy (with either Simon Porloe or Bernadette Utopia) on his Rio de Janeiro team, while the doubts resulting from the cost of sending a travelling reserve were also banished, with Camilla Speirs (Portersize Just A Jiff) getting the nod.
Understandably, Turner was anxious to emphasise the positive, even if the absence of Aoife Clark from his list, in particular, was obvious.
“I am very confident, absolutely. We’ve had very strong combinations to work with all year and I think the qualities everyone has shown have been encouraging. It’s a tough decision and I am very happy with the five that are travelling. It demonstrates the healthy competition that has been there in the build up.
“There is still improvement to come in some areas and we will be striving to close those gaps in the build up. We have riders with Olympic experience, horses with proven four-star form, and some horses that are-up and-coming. It’s very healthy to be put under pressure to go for the maximum possible delivery for the best possible team score,” he said.
Turner declined to discuss the omission of Oxfordshire-based Kildare native Clark.
“I’m not willing to go into that. There are several other people that could be on the list. I have to take every conceivable aspect of performance into account. It’s as simple as that, but I’m not going to discuss anyone in particular, but of course everyone that has not made the team is going to be disappointed.”
For sure, he was alone among all of the riders at last weekend’s Furusiyya Series show in St Gallen, Switzerland, to jump double clears in both the nations cup - won by Ireland - and the grand prix. Aside from actually winning the grand prix, he couldn’t have scripted his comeback to the big time any better.
As well, Broderick and the 10-year-old Irish-bred gelding - owned by Canadian Lee Kruger of Caledonia Stables - were outstanding at times last year, jumping double clear in the nations cup in St Gallen and repeating the feat to help Ireland claim the Aga Khan Trophy in Dublin.
They had, however, not seen top-tier action since the Furusiyya Series final in Barcelona, Spain, last September, with Broderick saying he was out for three months with a groin injury.
As such, the Tipperary rider’s performance last weekend was akin to a runner joining a marathon with a mile to go and then setting a world record for the distance.
Was it enough? It was for Ireland manager Robert Splaine.
In yesterday’s Irish Examiner Broderick, who rides out of Ballypatrick Stables outside Thurles, admitted his time on the sidelines meant he was “more hopeful than confident” of winning the Olympic place, but he was quick to add: “I’m fit and raring to go now”.
As was to be expected, the selection by Splaine divided show jumping fans. Vocal on social media were supporters of Bertram Allen. A brilliant talent with a superb mare in Molly Malone V, he secured the Olympic place for Ireland. In many minds, this should confer an entitlement to the Olympic place. That’s not how it works, though. There are sound reasons for allowing the manager the freedom to select a combination that, in the words of the criteria published by Horse Sport Ireland, “will deliver the best possible result” for Ireland.
Not least among these is form and Allen weakened his claim for the Olympic spot when he put up 10 faults in the first round of the nations cup in St Gallen, though, he deserves praise for gathering himself and showing maturity to jump clear in the second round. As for the fact he is No 10 in the world, versus Broderick’s lowly 252 ranking, that too is a red herring. Selection for the Olympics boils down to a horse/rider combination, not riding week in, week out, with multiple horses to earn ranking points.
Unsurprisingly, Broderick was prominent in having sympathy for Allen.
“I feel for Bertram, who won the spot, and I’m sure he will represent us in many more Olympics,” he said.
There is no doubt the 20-year-old Wexford rider would have the potential to make the podium in Rio, while you could also find reasons to send Denis Lynch (All Star 5) and Cian O’Connor (Good Luck) to Brazil.
I’ll nail my colours to the mast here and say I would have nominated the latter, but will qualify it by saying, like everyone else, bar Splaine and his advisors, I am outside looking in. O’Connor, like his three rivals, has a championship horse, but what gives him the edge, I feel, is that he also knows what is required to win a medal - he claimed bronze in London, the first Irish show jumper to win an Olympic medal - has the professional attributes needed for the challenge and, crucially, he has a cool head.
What was unusual, too, is that, while Splaine named O’Connor, Allen, and Lynch as reserves, he did not put them in any particular order; Ireland is first reserve for an individual place and team place at Rio de Janeiro and the trio are in the running should either option become available ahead of the definite entry date of July 18.
I am confident Broderick will do his utmost to repay Splaine for his faith and, in doing so, it is not outlandish to believe he could become the second Irish rider to win an Olympic medal if things go to plan.
However, there are two months to go before he launches his bid. Anything could happen in the interim - remember London 2012 - but one thing should happen: The 31-year-old is Ireland’s representative and we all need to unite behind him, even if he was not the obvious choice for many.
For the record, the criteria that guided Robert Splaine in selecting the horse/rider “that will deliver the best possible result” for Ireland were published in March.
1. Present form of the horse and athlete up to the date of selection;
2. Past performance(s) of the horse and athlete;
3. The performance of the combinations in this year’s five-star nations cups competitions;
4. The performance of the combinations in five-star grands prix this year and last year;
5. The performance of the combinations at last year’s European Championships and FEI top-level, five-star nations cups;
6. The soundness of the horse to meet the challenges of competing at the Olympics, and;
7. Commitment to the HSI high-performance programme.
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