THE Irish show jumping team claimed an impressive runner-up finish in Sunday's hugely important five-star Longines FEI Nations Cup at Sopot in Poland, following a tense competition where Ireland and Belgium had to jump-off to decide the winners.
This was Ireland’s second of four opportunities to score league points in Europe’s top division, which this year carries the added importance of an Olympic team qualification spot up for grabs at the Nations Cup World Final in Barcelona this September.
Ireland, sponsored by Devenish and The Underwriting Exchange, were drawn first to jump, and got off to an excellent start with clear rounds from Limerick’s Paul O’Shea with Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu (owned by Machu Picchu Partners LLC) and from Cork’s Shane Sweetnam with Alejandro (owned by Seabrook LLC).
Waterford’s Peter Moloney looked to be heading for Ireland’s third clear with the Team Harmony-owned Chianti’s Champion, however the last fence fell to leave them with four faults.
Wexford’s Bertram Allen was last to go for Ireland in the first round with Harley VD Bisschop (owned by Ballywalter Stable), and finished with one fence down to leave Ireland on a total of four faults and in a share of second place with Belgium and France at the halfway stage, with The Netherlands holding the lead on a zero score.
O’Shea completed a brilliant double clear round when first out for the Irish in the second round, and the gap at the top closed when the first Dutch rider picked up four faults.
Sweetnam then matched O’Shea’s performance as he also jumped double clear and that put Ireland in a share of the lead when The Netherlands joined a group of four teams on four faults at that stage.
Peter Moloney, who was making his debut in Europe’s top division of the Nations Cup series, then delivered a vital clear round, meaning Ireland would finish with a clear scorecard in the second round.
Ireland would finish on their first round total of four faults without the need for Bertram Allen to jump in the second round. The Dutch and French teams dropped out of the running after their final riders collected points, however Belgium matched Ireland’s score to secure a jump-off to decide the winners.
Paul O’Shea was selected to go against the clock for Ireland with Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu, but they left the door open when they knocked the first fence. O’Shea’s time however was quick, meaning Belgium’s Pieter Devos still had to deliver with his horse Apart.
Devos survived a nervous round where he rattled a couple of poles, however he crossed the line clear to take victory for the Belgian’s ahead of Ireland in second. France finished third ahead of Germany in fourth and Netherlands in fifth. Brazil filled sixth place ahead of the home team from Poland in seventh while Austria finished eighth.
Irish team manager Rodrigo Pessoa was very pleased with his teams performance and said: “We were really close, we had good rounds with one or two new horses that we got to know a bit better. In the jump-off we had to go first which is always difficult and we made it a bit easier for Pieter.
"The points today were really important. To pick up 90 points today is really good as we don’t want to have to be chasing points at the end as it would be good to have the back up of Barcelona if needed for the qualification for the Olympics.”
Pessoa had special praise for Peter Moloney who was making his debut in Europe Division 1.
“The horse [Chianti’s Champion] has unbelievable potential and the kid [Peter Moloney] is very good, so today was very positive. Now we set our sights on our next Nations Cup in Aachen [which is not part of Europe Division 1] and the final stretch in Hickstead, Dublin and then the important European Championships.”
Ireland collected 90 points for their runner-up finish in Sopot and the result has moved Pessoa’s team up to fourth place on the league table. Ireland’s next opportunity to gain Nations Cup points will come in July at Hickstead in Britain where Ireland were winners in 2018.
The final chance to collect points will come in the Aga Khan at the Dublin Horse Show in August.
The Irish Show Jumping team is sponsored by Devenish and The Underwriting Exchange
Equiline – Official athlete clothing supplier of Team Ireland Equestrian
Source: Horse Sport Ireland press release