Paul Kennedy is in line for his biggest team challenge to date when Ireland take on seven opponents in Friday’s important Division 1 Nations Cup of Italy in Rome.
The young Limerick rider is a member of Rodrigo Pessoa’s five-strong squad for what is the second of six qualifiers for Ireland, who have never tasted victory on Italian soil.
“I’m relishing the challenge,” Kennedy told the Irish Examiner as he looked forward to the event which will be staged in the amphitheatre setting of the Piazza di Siena.
The call-up to his first competitive five-star engagement came as a pleasant surprise.
“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting it. I was ready and the horse is in really good form. It’s great to get the nod.”
Kennedy, who partners Cartown Danger Mouse, owned by his mother Jane, was given his first taste of top-level nations cup action as recently as February at Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates where the pairing jumped one clear and one four-fault round.
Last month, he was called up for Pessoa’s managerial debut at the Nations Cup of Belgium and again jumped a clear and a four fault round.
Neither of those affairs were qualifiers for Ireland, but they were for other countries competing, so the level was testing and Kennedy showed he could handle it.
Now comes the added responsibility of being involved in one of Ireland’s qualifiers as the team looks to claim a place in the annual Nations Cup final.
“It a bit of extra pressure,” he said.
“You want to perform and gain points so we can qualify for Barcelona. We’re well prepared and looking forward to it.”
Pessoa has retained three of the team who finished third in Ireland’s first qualifier in France earlier this month, adding in Kennedy and Mark McAuley (Utchan De Belheme) to complement Shane Sweetnam (Chaqui Z), Shane Breen (Golden Hawk) and Michael Duffy (Belcanto Z). He will name his final four from the quintet tomorrow.
Duffy is another young rider who has taken to top-level competition like he has been doing it for years.
If he makes the final four he will be the only rider to be part of all three teams managed by Pessoa since his appointment three months ago.
With six of the eight teams competing for points in Rome, a tough afternoon is expected, with the Italians, who won last year’s Aga Khan in Dublin, looking particularly formidable. Kennedy, however, is confident of a good showing by the Irish.
“I think we have one of our strongest teams so far this year. The rest of the boys are in really good form as well and you never know.”
Also on Friday, Ireland are making a guest appearance at the Division 2 Nations Cup of Portugal.
In development manager Michael Blake’s squad of six are debutants Sophie Dalm (Remake Lande) and Derek McCoppin (Zaire), together with Greg Broderick (Charmeur), David Simpson (Keoki), Michael Pender (Can Ya Makan) and Dermott Lennon (Fleur IV).
Yesterday Ireland’s new eventing manager Sally Corscadden named her team for next week’s FEI Eventing Nations Cup at Tattersalls.
Austin O’Connor (Balham Houdini), Cathal Daniels (OLS Back Chat), Sarah Ennis (Horseware Stellor Rebound) and Sam Watson (Imperial Sky) will represent the country in what will be Corscadden’s first competitive outing.
Tipperary rider Liam O’Meara made it a four-timer in Sunday’s National Grand Prix League fixture at Galway Equestrian Centre, this time winning with Mr Coolcaum.
Jessica Burke claimed the 7 year-old Irish Sport Horse Studbook contest on Kashino.
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