At the three five-star Nations Cup meetings that have been held on the European circuit since the beginning of the month, the Grand Prix event has seen Irish riders dominating affairs.
It started on the first weekend of June when Bertram Allen and Hector van d’Abdijhoeve pounced as last to go to win the Swiss Grand Prix at St Gallen. If he hadn’t won, there would have been an Irish victory anyway, as Richard Howley and Chinook were holding fast in pole position until the Wexford rider’s late effort.
It was a notable one-two for Ireland, and there was more success to come just a week later at the Polish Nations Cup meeting where Cian O’Connor and Good Luck went for broke as last-to-go in a 13-way jump-off for the Grand Prix and outdid leader Luciana Diniz of Portugal on Fit For Fun to take the prize.
It was O’Connor again this past weekend who almost made it an Irish clean sweep of nations cup grand prix events in June, but this time, at the Dutch Nations Cup weekend in Rotterdam, the London 2012 bronze-medalist had to settle for second when Rio silver-medalist Peder Fredrickson of Sweden on H&M All In stopped the clock a third of a second sooner in an eight-horse jump-off. Darragh Kenny wasn’t far off the mark either on Charly Chaplin S, posting the fastest jump-off time but coming unstuck at the last fence and finishing eighth.
The downside for the month has been the team element. The nations cups in Switzerland and Poland were not important from an Irish viewpoint, but the one in Rotterdam was, and the outcome was disappointing, especially as manager Rodrigo Pessoa fielded his strongest side to date for what was always going to be a hotly-contested league fixture.
Ireland were in a four-way share of the lead with Germany, Sweden and Switzerland on zero faults at halfway after clears by Darragh Kenny (Charly Chaplin S), Bertram Allen (Hector van d’Abdijhoeve) and Cian O’Connor (Good Luck). The remaining four teams were only four faults behind at that stage, and such low scoring resulted in course-builder Louis Konickx setting a much stiffer task for the second round. Only Bertram Allen managed a second clear for Ireland, and there were eight faults each for Shane Breen (Golden Hawk) Kenny, and O’Connor, dropping Ireland to a three-way share of fifth place.
It was the worst league result yet for Pessoa, but there are other opportunities to come, and as each nation can discard its worst two results from the six qualifiers, the hope is that this will prove to be one of them. “We are of course disappointed with the second round that we could not deliver,” said the Irish manager.
“We had some small mistakes that we must correct for the next time. Our guys are all good professionals and they are of course disappointed they could not get a better result but they realise it not possible to win all the time.”
Sweden, who won brilliantly in Rotterdam, will host Ireland’s next qualifier in just over two weeks’ time, before Hickstead (28th July) and Dublin (11th August) complete the Europe Division 1 fixtures.
Pessoa will be hoping to have league affairs settled before Dublin, having already stated he wishes to spare the best combinations for the European Championships which get underway barely two weeks later. That means he needs good results from the next two outings, so a certain amount of pressure is ahead, particularly as league rivals will be thinking along the same lines.
Liam O’Meara added yet another National Grand Prix win to his haul this year when riding Mr Coolcaum to victory in last weekend’’s round at Charleville Agricultural Show, extending the Tipperary rider’s overall lead in the series. The Cork venue also hosted round six of the Munster Grand Prix league, which was won by Adam Carey on CTS Peanuts, who ousted his father Kieran on Hip Boy. Third went to Timmy Doyle on JS Bucks, which was enough to take the Cork rider to the top of the standings, ahead of Francis Connors who finished sixth in the event on BP Castlefield.