Lennon called up, as Euro hero Babington flies home

IRELAND'S show jumping team will line out in today's Samsung Super League competition at Rotterdam without European Championship's hero Kevin Babington, who has crossed the Atlantic to compete at Spruce Meadows before heading home.

Pennsylvania-based Babington was replaced on the five-man squad by Dermott Lennon.

But, an 11th-hour call to arms has seen the world champion replace Robert Splaine on the four-man team bidding to overtake France in the Samsung Super League. Lennon will ride Marie O'Brien's stallion OBOS Quality in the competition in what will be a big test for the former ride of Denis Coakley.

Lennon's appearance in his first nations cup of the season came after Splaine's stallion Coolcorron Cool Diamond was withdrawn with a pulled muscle. Also on the team will be Cian O'Connor (Waterford Crystal), Billy Twomey (Anastasia, who replaces Luidam, the stallion said to have a lung infection) and Peter Charles (Pershing).

Dutch-based Lennon, who will be undertaking his first nations cup since breaking and dislocating his shoulder at the Gothenburg world cup show in March, said he received his call up on Wednesday.

"I was contacted at lunchtime and asked to join the team. I was meant to be the fifth man, but the team were caught short," he said.

The Banbridge rider said today's outing would be a voyage into the unknown for the partnership. "I haven't jumped Quality at this level, so I do not know what to expect. I have competed him in a number of smaller classes in Holland and he's going okay, though," said Lennon, who confirmed that his championship-winning mare Liscalgot would not be competed until the new year, after injurying her leg in Aachen in June.

The main aim for the team in today's penultimate round of the Super League, if not winning, is to beat the French.

The latter took silver to the mighty Germans last week in Donaueschingen, but will look to consolidate the lead ahead of the last round in Barcelona next month, when double points are on offer. Ireland, on 41 points, lie six points adrift of the world champions.

It would be hard to dispute, however, the argument that Babington is a huge loss.

The Carrick-on-Suir rider is due to compete in the Masters Show at Spruce Meadows next week, the Canadian show offering, among its attractions, a $1m grand prix on Sunday.

Babington, riding Carling King, produced one of only two double clear rounds in last Friday's European Championships to help Ireland to fifth place and achieve its goal of qualifying for the Athens Olympics. Splaine had a creditable four faults in each round, Twomey and Luidam had eight faults on each outing, while O'Connor added four and eight to the total.

Germany won the gold, ahead of France, with Switzerland staging a second-round comeback to claim bronze.

While out of the medals, having taken a cautious approach in the opening day's power and speed, which counted in the overall total, the Irish had set their sights on the bigger prize in terms of the Olympics and can be satisfied on one level having achieved their aim.

Babington's double clear, meanwhile, powered him to fourth in the individual standings. However, eight faults in round one of Sunday's final and the last fence down in round two saw him drop to 11th.

Disappointment in the extreme was etched all over the face of Ludo Philippaerts, however. The Belgian, riding Parco, could afford to have a fence down in the final. Availing of his cushion, he produced a misjudgement of monumental proportions when adding one time fault to ultimately finish fourth. His agony was balanced by the joy of the Germans, who took the top three places, with young Christian Ahlmann and Coster denying compatriot Ludger Beerbaum his third individual gold medal.

EVENT rider Jane O'Flynn remains in a "critical" condition at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, a hospital spokesperson said last night.

The Athy, Co Kildare woman fractured her skull and cracked several ribs last Saturday when novice horse Zero Approach somersaulted on top of her in an event at the home of another top event rider Sasha Harrison. O'Flynn finished best of the Irish in 20th place on Kilnadeema Star in last year's World Equestrian Games and was due to line out for Ireland in next month's European championships at Punchestown.

Equestrian Federation of Ireland President Avril Doyle said: "On behalf of the EFI and on behalf of everyone involved in equestrian sport, I would like to say that our thoughts and prayers are with Jane and her family, and we hope she will achieve a speedy recovery."

LIEUTENANT DAVID O'BRIEN came out tops in the Estuary Fuels Grand Prix at Limerick Show last Sunday, but was made to battle hard for his win by Peter Smyth.

Excitement and temperatures both ran high, as the lead changed hands several times in the 4,500 competition. But it was Army rider O'Brien from Athlone who took away the lion's share of the prizemoney with a merited performance.

From a starting line-up of 22, the Athlone rider progressed two to the eight-horse jump-off. Fourth last to go with Boherdeal Clover, he looked unbeatable when crossing the finish line clear in 34.78 seconds.

However, Strabane rider Smyth has been consistent of late and Sunday was no different, as he took over the leader's mantle with a superb round on Zara's Pride that saw him come home in clear 32.99. O'Brien had to settle for second behind Eddie Moloney, riding Kilmoylan Warrior, at North Wexford the day before. But at Limerick, he had an ace up his sleeve in the form of Carraig Dubh another clear round in 32.65 seconds for victory.

Importantly, the result saw O'Brien and Smyth bump Harry Marshall off the top of Kerrygold Grand Prix League. Smyth takes over at the top on 85 points, with O'Brien second on 77. Marshall is third with 74 to his credit.

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