“I apologise,” murmured a crestfallen Denis Lynch yesterday after his jump-off error at the last fence handed Italy a surprise victory in the nations cup at Dublin Horse Show.
The Tipperary rider and his team-mates Bertram Allen (Hector van D’Abdijhoeve), Cian O’Connor (Good Luck 5), and Greg Broderick (MHS Going Global) had shown themselves to be worthy champions all afternoon, only to be matched by the Italians until the end of normal play, with both teams finishing on zero.
It meant for a tense jump-off, with Lynch nominated by Ireland manager Robert Splaine to continue Ireland’s bid to retain the Aga Khan Trophy they won last year.
Lynch was in the unenviable position of being first to test the altered course with All Star 5 and he set off with determination, bringing the packed stands to the heights with a speedy, sometimes edgy, performance, before the final obstacle presented itself for what looked likely to elicit another partisan roar of approval.
However, reaching to cut out a stride, Lynch arrived at the fence with too much to do and the 13-year-old stallion baulked.
The pair turned around and finished the job with ease, but to a silenced arena and a shock six faults on the scoreboard.
With the Italians imperious so far, it meant to all intents and purpose that the battle was over, and it was left to Piergiorgio Bucci and Casallo Z to apply the coup de grace with a text-book clear.
It was the fifth time for the Italians to experience la dolce vita Irish-style in the competition’s 90-year history.
You had to feel sorry for Lynch, who could not hide his dejection.
“I probably could have made a stride more [to the last fence], but we wanted to put pressure on them. I am very disappointed... but I apologise, I’m sorry for letting everyone down,” he said.
Asked the reasoning behind the selection of Lynch to take up the Irish challenge, Splaine said: “It wouldn’t be a decision that I would make flippantly or lightly.
“We put a lot of thought into it and discussed it with the riders and we were all in agreement that Denis had the experience and he had the stride to do what was required.
“In fact, he had four strides to the wall, something which the opposition probably wouldn’t have been able to do.
"We also took into account who the opposition were going to be and Piergiorgio and his horse are an incredibly good combination and a very quick combination, so we felt a neat clear round wouldn’t put enough pressure on him and they would probably get us.
"Denis has a horse with the mileage and experience, as against the others.”
An absorbing contest saw Ireland justify their favourites tag, with Lynch setting the tone as pathfinder, strolling around the RDS turf on the big-jumping All Star 5 for an impressive clear.
Broderick might have been considered to be under pressure to justify his selection as Ireland’s sole representative in the Olympics, but he managed it admirably, turning after the last fence to exhort the crowd to roar its appreciation.
Bertram Allen was out of luck from the outset, however, knocking the first with the nine-year-old stallion Hector van D’Abdijhoeve and following suit at the last for a round of eight faults, though in mitigation it was the horse’s first nations cup.
It was left to the cool-headed O’Connor, to restore the proper order, jumping a harmonious clear with Good Luck, before taking the plaudits from the fans as the team ended on a perfect zero.
Perfect as it was, the Irish quartet were not alone at the top of the leaderboard, with Italy and US also fault free, the latter despite the loss of their discard score after Jessica Springsteen was eliminated when Cynar VA stopped twice at the water.
Sweden were also in the running, finishing the opening half on four faults.
Round two saw Lynch stopping just short of being impeccable, as he notched up a single time fault, while Broderick and the 10-year-old bay gelding gave another exhibition of jumping.
While only aged 20, Allen has huge experience and he needed all of it to reveal his mount’s potential, his round being a little disjointed, but he was clear, nonetheless to sum up the Irish determination.
At this stage, the US and Sweden had dropped out of contention, leaving the Italians as potential party spoilers.
As such, it was a pressure round for anchor-rider O’Connor, but the Olympic bronze medalist and the expressive stallion reiterated their value to the Irish team with a clear that again elicited deserved cheers.
Unfortunately, from a local perspective, his Italian counterpart Bruno Chimirri and Tower Mouche failed to respond accordingly, producing a round that regardless of your persuasion one had to admit was as smooth as silk.
It set up the jump-off and a case of what might have been.
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