IRISH eyes were smiling at the RDS in Dublin this evening after Robert Splaine's team of Cian O'Connor, Bertram Allen, Greg Broderick and Darragh Kenny pulled off a spectacular win in the Aga Khan Nations Cup trophy.
The Irish team registered a team total of just four faults with last man in, Darragh Kenny, not needing to jump in the final round after Cian O'Connor - riding in his 100th Nations Cup for Ireland - secured the Aga Khan on his talented Canturo stallion, Good Luck, owned by Adena Springs.
Twenty year-old Wexford rider Bertram Allen opened for Ireland on the 17 year-old Romanov. The young rider almost pulled off a clear round posting just four faults on the board despite being the first competitor of the eight nations tackling the course in the rain.
Second up, and making his Aga Khan debut, was Tipperary’s Greg Broderick on the Irish Sport Horse MHS Going Global, owned by Canadians Lee and Paul Kruger, but the novelty of the occasion was lost on the nine year-old horse, who delivered a confident clear round in front of a packed stadium.
Third man in was Olympic bronze medallist Cian O’Connor with his new horse Good Luck, also making its first appearance at the Dublin Nations’ Cup, but the gelding lived up to its name, as O’Connor came home with all the poles standing.
Offaly’s Darragh Kenny and Sans Souci Z maintained the rhythm with yet another clear round for Ireland, leaving the host nation on a zero score at the end of the first round, and leading the field, but with the Netherlands just one fence behind and Britain in third with a five fault total.
In the second round, Bertram Allen rectified his previous single mistake with a classic clear, and when Broderick and MHS Going Global recorded one of only two double clear rounds achieved in the whole competition, Ireland’s position started to look unassailable. The Netherlands fell back to an eight fault total, while the British team collapsed in the second round to finish on 23 faults.
Cian O’Connor, riding on his 12th Aga Khan team, came into the arena for the second time with one fence in hand for his team, and when he and Good Luck came home on just four faults the home victory was sealed.
With now just a total of four faults on the leaderboard, anchorman Darragh Kenny did not need to jump to confirm Ireland’s first Aga Khan win since 2012.
Team Manager Robert Splaine said: "This was a momentous occasion for us, as it always is when we win in front of the home crowd, whose enthusiasm always lifts our game. This Aga Khan victory falls in with our overall plan, with different combinations improving and maturing as the year progresses. We do aspire to be the best in the world, and hopefully others are now seeing that this is possible.
"We have had tremendous support as well, from our new corporate sponsors Investec, from Horse Sport Ireland’s chairman Pat Wall, and from the generous owners, whose faith in continuing to provide us with world class horses I hope is now being rewarded. Today’s Aga Khan win can only give us great confidence for the future, which is now looking a great deal brighter".
Points gained from today’s impressive performance in front of an ecstatic crowd also ensured that Ireland will stay in Division One of the Furusiyya FEI Nations’ Cup league for 2016, and their fifth place on the series table now qualifies Robert Splaine’s chosen squad for inclusion in the Nations’ Cup Final at Barcelona in September.
The Netherlands took second place in the Aga Khan competition this afternoon, with eight faults, while Switzerland finished third on 13 faults.