This weekend Ireland’s show jumping team face their second of four Nations Cup qualifiers when they travel to the Baltic venue of Sopot for the Nations Cup of Poland.
Ireland’s first qualifier in France last month saw Rodrigo Pessoa’s team finish in fourth place, and the Irish manager includes two of the combinations from that effort for this latest contest, which takes place on Sunday.
The fourth-place finish in France was a reasonable start to their four-fixture campaign but a higher placing in at least one of the other three qualifiers would be desirable in the quest to end up as one of the top seven nations in the ten-team European Division 1, which is the cut-off for an automatic place in the annual Nations Cup Final.
After this week the Irish will compete in the British Nations Cup at Hickstead (which they won last year)before the final event in the league, which is the Aga Khan contest in Dublin in August.
Ireland’s rivals this week are Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, and Netherlands.
Also competing will be Brazil and Poland, but they are not from Ireland’s division and so will not pick up any qualifying points, though they could affect the other teams’ haul as points are awarded based on the finishing positions of all the teams in the contest — in other words, if Brazil win, for example, they won’t get the 100 points for topping the event but neither will anyone else.
Shane Sweetnam looks set to partner Indra van de Oude Heihoef once again, with Paul O’Shea and Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu the other surviving combination from the last qualifier.
Also in the squad are Bertram Allen, Peter Moloney, and Billy Twomey.
Moloney has yet to jump in a qualifier, but was excellent with Ornellaia in the non-league (but top level) Nations Cup of Italy recently, where he looked set for a double-clear until downing the last fence and picking up a time fault in the second round.
The Waterford rider has been in great form all round this year and maintained his momentum this past weekend at the four-star German meeting at Wiesbaden where he had a win and a third placing with Compelling Z.
Since Ireland’s first qualifier in France, a second round took place in Switzerland but it was not on Ireland’s list, though it did affect the league standings. It did Pessoa no favours as France, Italy, Switzerland, and Great Britain took the top four places, with the guesting Brazilian team, which could have done Ireland a favour by denying one of the above four a high placing, only managing fifth.
The Nations Cup series may be revised (once again) for next season.
Its future was discussed at length last week by thegoverning body (FEI) at a roundtable session in its base city of Lausanne in Switzerland. Competition from other events continues to impact rider participation which causes selection problems for team managers.
For example, rounds of the lucrative Global Champions Tour (GCT) regularly clash with top-level Nations Cup fixtures.
At the meeting, Swiss team boss Andy Kistler presented chefs d’equipe with a proposal that the top European division should be reduced from ten to eight teams with six qualifiers and each country counting their best four results.
Also at the meeting were riders from the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) including Ireland’s Michael Duffy. The young Galway rider, who now competes regularly on the GCT, regards the Nations Cup series as the most important.
“It’s the centrepiece of our sport and it needs to be the main goal,” he said in views that were echoed by Brazil’s Pedro Veniss.
“Everybody just loves the Nations Cup,” said Veniss. “It’s the best product that we have. As a rider I can promise you that it’s the best feeling in the world to ride for your nation.”
While rider loyalty is one thing, the more financially rewarding GCT (for one) understandably has the upper hand as far as owners are concerned.
Pessoa, then, is doing well to have two regular GCT competitors (Allen and Sweetnam) in his squad for Poland this week while a round of the GCT takes place in Stockholm.
At the Swedish venue will be Cian O’Connor and Mark McAuley, both of whom Pessoa had for that French qualifier last month. Also in Sweden will be Michael Duffy, Michael G Duffy, and Denis Lynch.
There is also the big draw of Spruce Meadows in Canada which stages its ‘Continental’ fixture this week with a host of Irish riders looking for a share of the pretty decent purses on offer.