Ireland show jumping manager Robert Splaine clasped the Aga Khan Trophy yesterday at the Discover Ireland Dublin Horse Show and declared that a medal at the European Championships in a fortnight is not an unrealistic hope.
His confidence was based on the quality of the nations-cup-winning performance from his quartet of riders, Bertram Allen (Romanov), Greg Broderick (MHS Going Global), Cian O’Connor (Good Luck) and Darragh Kenny (Sans Soucis Z) and, more importantly, their mounts.
Putting the performance in perspective is that aspirations of a place on the podium at the Europeans in Aachen, Germany, have replaced hopes of merely booking a place at next year’s Olympics, but Splaine felt it was justified.
“Definitely, there is the possibility of a medal at the Europeans,” said the Corkman, emphasising his point by adding “we feel we can win a medal and we’ve felt it for a while.
“It’s an incredible day. We’ve been building for this for a while. It’s a huge step forward and we have [Allen’s number one horse] Molly Malone sitting in the stable and she will strengthen the team further at Aachen.”
Minutes beforehand he had walked into the press conference with an exaggerated swagger, no doubt feeling a certain measure of relief that his team had done themselves justice.
There was, though, a distinct feeling leading up to the contest that Splaine and Co had something to prove and they set down a marker in round one in such emphatic fashion that nobody could have predicted that Bertram Allen and the evergreen Romanov would be the discard score and with just a single error.
That he has just turned 20 and was the first rider into the arena on the amazing 17-year-old gelding would be excuse enough, but the aberration proved of no importance, as his colleagues went on to leave the hallowed RDS turf unsullied by fallen fences.
Broderick’s performance with MHS Going Global was the standout, the nine-year-old gelding belying his relative youth and showing he can handle the big occasion.
It put the quartet in pole position on zero, but there was a lot of jumping to do, with the Netherlands just one fence adrift, followed by Britain on five faults.
Round two, however, saw the Irish begin to pull away, as the Netherlands faltered and Britain collapsed. Allen opened with a flawless display, before Tipperary’s Broderick produced what proved to be one of only two double clears in the contest. It meant O’Connor could afford to have a fence down and, while he used up his insurance at fence eight, he went on to put the destination of the Aga Khan Trophy beyond doubt, ensuring Kenny did not have to jump, as Ireland finished on four, with the Dutch on eight and Switzerland rising to third on 13 faults.
Importantly, the result left Ireland in fifth place in Europe Division One of the Furusiyya Series and qualified for next month’s final in Barcelona, Spain.
Olympic bronze medalist O’Connor was not shy about saying that yesterday’s superlative team performance was “planned and not an accident” and it was obvious he wanted to emphasise how much he felt he owed his team-mates for making his 100th nations cup appearance a winning one.
“Bertram is among the best in the world, Greg is new to this level, but has taken to it like a duck to water, and I always new that Darragh was a class act. For me to be riding with these guys, well, I’m over the moon to mark my 100th cap with a win.”
Neither did Kenny mince his words, saying that after Broderick had gone clear, it was pretty much up to the team “to fuck this up now”.
Allen has been showing his talent for most of his 20 years, garnering many European medals at underage level, and his ability has propelled him to number five in the world in the senior ranks. It was obvious, though, that yesterday was exceptional.
“I was never on a senior winning team and to win in Dublin is special. It’s a feeling I’ve never had before during the prize-giving. Absolutely unbelievable.”
Broderick, too, was on a high.
“I’m on top of the world. You can’t get much better than this,” said the Tipperary rider, complimenting his “three great friends”.
Of course MHS Going Global came in for deserved praise.
“He’s a nine-year-old, but he’s not afraid of the big occasion. Sometimes when you ride into a big arena, they can shrink under you, but he grows under you. He knew today was an important day. He put in a huge performance and I couldn’t be more proud of the horse.”
With tomorrow’s Longines Grand Prix awaiting, Splaine was unwilling to be drawn on whether yesterday’s four riders would make up his squad for the Europeans. Of those determined to maintain what has proved to be three days of Irish dominance not least will be Denis Lynch and Conor Swail, both riders gunning to show the manager they have the ammunition in All Star 5 and Grand Cru vd Vijf Eiken, respectively, for the big shoot-out in Aachen.
Meanwhile, Mikey Pender is in contention for the individual gold medal at the European Pony Championships in Malmo, Sweden, having helped his team to silver yesterday.
The Kildare native, riding Imagine If One, is one of four competitors on zero penalties going into tomorrow’s final, which is over two rounds.
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