A FANTASTIC team performance, a fourth place finish and qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games was a job well done for Michael Blake and his team of Denis Lynch, Bertram Allen, Cian O’Connor and Daniel Coyle at last weekend’s ECCO FEI World Championships in Herning, Denmark.

However, it was bitter sweet as the team finished just 0.49 of a penalty away from claiming Ireland’s first team medal at a World Championships. “Obviously we are delighted to take an Olympic qualification place at the very first opportunity as it now gives us two full years to prepare for the Games,” Michael Blake commented afterwards.

“It is slightly bittersweet as we came so close to winning a medal. It certainly was an exciting competition and all our guys fought hard to climb from ninth overall and finish in the top four. Congratulations to Sweden, The Netherlands and Britain on their medal wins and to Germany for also qualifying for Paris. None of this would be possible without the incredible owners we have, the grooms, and all those that put so much work into a successful result and I want to thank each and every one of them.”

Ireland started the final in ninth place and set out with the big goal of securing that qualification for Paris. Denis Lynch got the team off to a great start with Molly Ohrstrom’s 13-year-old gelding Brooklyn Heights, jumping a perfect clear and just picking up a single time fault when one second over the 83 second time allowed.

Next to go, Bertram Allen bounced back from eight faults on Thursday to produce a classy clear round with Aiden McGrory’s 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Pacino Amiro (Pacino x NC Amiro), who was bred by Simon Scott, to put the team firmly in the hunt for team qualification and even a podium place.

After a vital clear in the first round of the team competition on Thursday, which secured Ireland’s place in the top 10, Cian O’Connor was heading for home with another clear until the final part of the tricky combination – 13abc – on the last line when Susan Magnier’s 14-year-old gelding C Vier 2 just clipped the oxer behind. They also picked up a time fault to finish on five faults.

Ireland were in contention for a bronze medal if anchor man Daniel Coyle could jump a clear when last to go for the team, however Ariel Grange’s Legacy knocked the triple bar at fence six, then the next vertical and the second part of the double of oxers at fence nine before Coyle opted to retire as the discard score, meaning Ireland counted six faults from the night and finished on 23.15 in fourth place.

Bertram Allen and Pacino Amiro (ISH) at the FEI World Championships in Herning \ Tomas Holcbecher

Speaking to the media afterwards, Cian O’Connor spoke about Ireland’s delight to get Olympic qualification out of the way. “We’re delighted to finish in fourth place. Obviously we just miss out barely on a bronze medal, but we’re thrilled because the group of horses that we have here are all a little bit new to us in the team at this level. I only got C Vier 2 this year and Denis’s horse is also new.

“Olympic qualification is a real monkey off our back because it’s something that’s eluded us [previously]. In all my career we’ve never managed to do it the first time anyway, so I’m not sure when the last time Ireland qualified in its first attempt. We came here to qualify and I’m very proud of my horse and my teammates.”