Ireland pony show jumping team manager Tom Slattery is confident his charges will rise to the occasion as the European Championships return to Millstreet next week after 25 years.
“I think, when you weigh it up, competing at home is to our advantage. All the children would have jumped at Millstreet before, which will definitely count for something,” he said. “They’re a young squad, relatively inexperienced. In saying that, they are good kids and have the potential to do very well. I would be hopeful, but Britain, Germany, the Dutch and the French will also be very strong.”
The squad, aged 14 and 15, includes Nicholas Connors (Mighty Patch) from Waterford, Kildare’s Grace McHugh (Cassandra Van Het Roelhof) and Sean Monaghan (Attyrory Rebel), and Mikey Pender (Doon Laddie), but most eyes will be on Kilkenny’s European champion Susan Fitzpatrick, with Rock Dee Jay, the gelding that twice previously earned team silver for Ireland with Max O’Reilly-Hyland in the saddle.
“I don’t want to focus on any one rider, but you can’t ignore that Susan has already won gold and team bronze. If she could repeat the feat, we would be delighted,” said Slattery, who is in his fourth year as team manager and got off to a super start in 2011 in Poland with team and individual silver. “The whole thing is to keep the children confident and ensure a good team spirit. I would give advice on how to ride the course and any technical input. Some would have their own personal trainers, but we all work together to get the best result,” he said.
The Duggan family were last November granted the right to host the championships by the International Equestrian Federation, having invested heavily in their Green Glens Arena. Under the stewardship of event director Thomas Duggan, the family have worked hard to prepare the facility, which boasts 10 world-class jumping arenas. These will feature two of the three disciplines; show jumping (over fences from the London Olympics) and dressage.
There will, however, be tremendous interest in the eventing, which takes place over the magnificent 350-acre historic parkland setting of Drishane Castle. Olympic course designer Mike Etherington-Smith — assisted by Mallow man Danny Dulohery — was charged to produce a historic track worthy of the 15th century demesne, purchased by the Duggans in 1992 from the Drishane Sisters.
The Green Glens also hosted the European Pony Championships in 1989. Coincidentally, the Germans struck gold then for the first time and will be back to defend what counted as their sixth title, won last year.
The north Cork town is expecting competitors from between 15 and 20 countries to line out, bringing thousands to the region and injecting millions of euro into the economy.
Ireland will also field a three-strong dressage squad — Katie Burns (Caracas II), Alana Cazabon Sullivan (Schermeer S Hof Arendsoog) and Linnea Larkin (Goofy) — led by manager Anne Marie Dunphy.
The eventing squad boasts six riders, from which a team of four will be selected by manager Polly Holohan: Sophie Buller (G Maha), Fionn Clarke (Black Velvet Band), Patrick Dennehy (Rose Down), Lucy Hancock (Newtown Westie), Shannon Sheridan (Drop The Subject), and Mary Smiddy (Mr Hale Bob).
The championships take place from next Tuesday to Sunday, August 3.
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