THE 16-year wait to get an Irish show jumping team back to the Olympic Games is finally over after a convincing and thrilling victory in the Longines FEI Nations Cup World Final at the Real de Polo Club de Barcelona this afternoon.
The victory means that, for the first time in history, Ireland will have teams in all three equestrian disciplines (show jumping, eventing and dressage) at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The last time Ireland had a show jumping team at the Olympic Games was in Athens 2004.
Rodrigo Pessoa’s team came to Barcelona chasing that final ticket, and delivered above and beyond over Santiago Varela’s difficult track, with clear rounds from Paul O’Shea and Cian O’Connor, plus a single time fault from Darragh Kenny securing victory.
The Olympic ticket was in the bag after the third line riders when the teams’ also chasing qualification - Italy and Columbia - fell behind, but it wasn’t until the very last rider that the overall result was confirmed in dramatic fashion.
Speaking afterwards, Rodrigo Pessoa gave all the credit to his dedicated team members. “We expected a very tough fight from our direct opponents, Italy and Columbia, but as a twist we were also holding strong to the big countries in it like Belgium and Germany.
“It’s a lot of pressure, people don’t really realise, but it’s a lot of pressure - the weight of the country is on their shoulders. It was a big ask from them today and to so it in style, hats off to them, all five of them, for a job well done.”
On sticking together after some ups and downs throughout the last two seasons, Pessoa added: “There are good days and bad days. The most important thing is that when the day that it really counts everyone sticks together and pulls the same way.
“If people can leave their personal issues on the side and really pull for the country, that’s what happens. I am delighted and really proud of them for what they did today.”
Peter Moloney was the first Irish rider into the arena when fourth to go aboard Team Harmony’s Chianti’s Champion (Champion Du Lys x Cornet Obolensky). The 11-year-old stallion was jumping out of his skin, but a slight mistake at the first part of the triple combination saw them finish with four faults.
O’Shea was next with the experienced Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu (Silverstone x Matterhorn). The 12-year-old gelding, who is owned by the Machu Pichhu Partners LLC, produced a world class clear round under immense pressure to keep Ireland in the hunt.
Paul O'Shea and Skara Glen's Machu Picchu \ Tiffany Van Halle
Darragh Kenny provided the vital clear round in Thursday’s qualifying round and aimed to do the same with Ann Thompson’s 13-year-old stallion Balou du Reventon (Cornet Obolensky x Continue). The pair were flawless throughout and didn’t touch any fences, but lost out on a share of that €100,000 bonus when picking up a single time fault.
When Columbia’s Nicolas Toro finished with 12 faults, and Italy were also out of the picture, Ireland had then secured the Tokyo place before the last line riders, but the competition still lay in the balance.
“I knew going in it was a very very important round for us. I knew there was a big chance of getting the ticket done, so I was a bit nervous going in the ring but I have an incredible horse, he is absolutely amazing. He tried so hard all the time,” Kenny said afterwards.
“My goal was to try jump double clear, to try get Ireland to Tokyo, that was the most important thing and I’m glad I can be part of this great team,” he added.
Cian O’Connor filled his usual anchor role with Ronnoco Jump Ltd’s talented nine-year-old PSG Final (Toulan x Cassini). A fantastic clear round from the pair piled the pressure on Belgium’s Gregory Wathelet (MJT Nevados S), who had to jump clear if Belgium were to win the competition for the second year in-a-row.
They were on their way to the penultimate fence with nothing to add when the 11-year-old stallion unbelievably ran out to one side, handing victory to Pessoa’s squad on one fault. Belgium were second on a score of four faults, ahead of Sweden on 12.
The huge Irish crowd who travelled to Barcelona celebrated in the collecting arena, before Rodrigo Pessoa lifted the beautiful Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup trophy in front of the packed stadium.
Just Belgium's Oliver Philippaerts (H&M Extra) and Germany's Daniel Deusser (Tobago Z) shared the €100,000 bonus for jumping double clear rounds.
“Machu [Picchu] jumped really well, I was very happy on Thursday and made a mistake myself. I wasn’t happy with myself on Thursday night, it took me a while to get to sleep, we could have jumped a clear round easily. We were determined today and really gave it 110%, he is a pleasure to ride.” – Paul O’Shea
“Honestly, it’s way more nerve wrecking on the ground than when you’re riding. I was more nervous today than I was in a long long time. This is for us all us riders, not just us here, there are 10 more guys who will be in contention for next year. For us to finally get it is amazing, we are all part of this squad and hopefully I will be in Japan next year.” – Shane Sweetnam
“We came here, this is a super championships in itself, our aim was to win this all along. Obviously, the Olympic qualification was on our mind, but you don’t come here to only qualify, we can here to win.” – Cian O’Connor
On the Olympic Games, O’Connor, who won a bronze medal at London 2012, added: “This is very emotional to be part of this great squad to have a chance to go to Tokyo. As Shane said, this opens the door for other riders, there is so much strength and depth within the Irish riders. We may not be the group of people but hopefully we are in with a shout to go to Tokyo. It gives the impetuous to others.
The Olympics Games is the place to be, it is different, it touches the man on the street.”
MORE ON THIS STORY IN NEXT SATURDAY'S THE IRISH FIELD