O’Connor’s bronze ‘only the beginning’

Ireland show jumping team manager Robert Splaine believes Cian O’Connor’s bronze medal-winning performance in London will be a springboard for greater Olympic success.

“To win a first show jumping medal is something I always proclaimed we could do. But this is only the beginning, the first step in a greater plan. To build on this achievement is possible. We have always got good support from the Irish Sports Council and the Olympic Council of Ireland, and we have achieved what I always knew was possible. The structures are in place and, with a carefully implemented plan, I feel we can qualify a team for the Olympics in Rio and truly deliver on our potential,” said Splaine, who declined to outline his position on his future, with his contract expiring at the end of the year.

The Corkman made his comments ahead of today’s nations cup contest at the Discover Ireland Dublin Horse Show and a day after O’Connor praised the manager, saying “he is extremely fair and he will do what he feels is correct and not be swayed by anybody”.

Splaine selected Clem McMahon (Pacino), Richard Moloney (Ahorn van de Zuuthoeve), Darragh Kerins (Lisona) and O’Connor on his Olympic mount Blue Loyd for today’s contest, explaining Olympian Billy Twomey’s exclusion was on the basis that “his horse Je t’Aime Flamenco did not jump up to expectations”.

Splaine’s quartet were drawn last of the eight nations and he is optimistic they can go one better than last year and win the competition, having seen Nick Skelton claim the 2011 title for Britain in an exciting jump-off against Twomey.

“I think we have a good squad and the fact we have three members of our Hickstead-winning team here is relevant. They have tasted success and they know what is required. That they are joined by Cian means we have a strong team capable of winning,” said Splaine. “As everyone knows, show jumping is unpredictable and anything could happen, but we want to give the Irish public something to shout about.”

Splaine and his charges had a disappointing season in the run-up to their Hickstead victory, which saw them move from the bottom of the FEI Top League to second last place, though things couldn’t be much more tighter, as a mere 3.5 points separate the bottom six teams.

While relegation remains a possibility for Ireland, major changes to the format have been mooted on the back of a possible five-year Saudi Arabian sponsorship deal, so it is anyone’s guess as to what will happen when the FEI makes its decision in November.

Regardless, Splaine says his team will be singular in its approach.

“Even assuming relegation did apply, it is very difficult to predict the outcome, as there is only 3.5 points separating the last six in the league. Regardless, though, you have to approach any competition with one aim, which is to win, and I am confident that we have a team well capable of doing that.”

Dermott Lennon showed his compatriots how it should be done yesterday, the former world champion claiming the Talbot Hotel Group Speed Derby on Loughview Lou Lou, to deny France’s Roger Yves Bost and Castleforbes Vivaldo Vh Costersveld, with Peter Smyth and Victoria Rose in third place.

It took the new Olympic gold medallist Steve Guerdat to deny Lennon a double, with the Swiss rider pocketing the top prize in the €23,000 Knight Frank Speed Stakes. Guerdat and the mare Jalisca Solier had over half a second to spare over Lennon on Hallmark Elite, with a second separating the Co Down rider from third-placed Briton John Whitaker and Argento.

Alexander Butler and Will Wimble ended the day with another Irish victory, coming out ahead of France’s Jerome Hurel (Zafir) and Conor Swail aboard the mare Martha Louise.

lDouble clears from junior show jumpers Bertram Allen (Wild Thing) and Sven Hadley (Adelgonde Z) helped Ireland to the gold medal in the European Championships in Austria yesterday.

The pair’s performance, coupled with a clear and a four-fault round from Max O’Reilly Hyland (Da Vinci’s Pride), saw the Irish finish on four faults, eight better than Belgium and Great Britain, with the latter losing out in a jump-off for silver.

Shannon McKenzie and Peyroux provided the discard for Ireland in both rounds, in a competition featuring 21 nations.

Last month, Ireland’s pony eventing team dominated the European Championships in Fontainebleau, France, claiming team gold, with Galway’s Cathal Daniels lifting the individual gold and Tipperary’s Ana O’Brien — daughter of racing’s Aidan O’Brien — claiming bronze.

Last week, the Irish young rider team took silver at the European Eventing Championships in Malmo, Sweden.

Horse Sport Ireland Chairman Joe Walsh said: “This gold medal today caps what has been a phenomenal month for Irish equestrian sport. An Olympic medal and five underage European medals. Hopefully we can continue the run in the Aga Khan.”

* Millstreet plays host to the Whites Cross Charity Show next Sunday, with four arenas in operation.

The main attraction is the Horse Sport Ireland Amateur Final, with €2,500 in prizes on offer.

The O’Brien Saddlery & Country Clothing Amateur Final boasts €1,000 in prizes, while Sean Kelly’s Lucky Meadows sponsors the 1.10m Grand Prix.

Last year the show donated €8,000 to charitable causes.

Competition begins at 10.00am sharp. Enquiries: 086-2608017.

* Almost 430 horses and ponies are up for auction at the Cavan International Performance Sale next week.

Some 350, aged three and upwards, go under the hammer on Wednesday and Thursday, with the organisers saying the animals are suitable for show jumping, dressage, hunting and pleasure riding. Viewing opens at 9am each day, with the sale beginning an hour later. On Tuesday, 77 lots of three-year-old potential eventers and show jumpers will be auctioned. Viewing is from 10am, followed by the sale at 3.30pm. An online catalogue, including details and pictures, is available at: www.cavanequestrian.com/catalogue.asp


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