NEVER ones to let the grass grow under their feet, the enterprising O’Donnell family at Hillcrest ran their second eventing fixture of the year last Sunday.

They were rewarded by not only their biggest entry to date but certainly one of the highest nationally of the season so far. This is a credit to Rodney O’Donnell who has invested so much in the facility, and undoubtedly the addition of the recent new all-weather arenas has paid dividends in this wettest of springs.

“We could have taken even more entries following the cancellation of Hazeldene,” commented O’Donnell. “But with the weather as it has been I didn’t want to push it. As things turned out we had two good drying days on Thursday and Friday, and despite a bad forecast on Sunday the day turned out fine.”

The track delivered several changes from that used three weeks earlier, and primarily that it ran in the opposite direction. Other new features included a triple brush following the water which proved influential throughout the day.

Of course, the success of any event is very dependent on its volunteers, and in this regard Hillcrest is blessed with a very loyal hard working team.

It was good to see two popular eventing faces back in action after spells on the sidelines. Returning to his familiar role at the helm as Society Steward Pat Coleman has been much missed in recent weeks, while rider Daragh Byrne who has been away from the sport with a serious eye injury, celebrated his come-back by emphatically winning the feature EI115 (O) class.

This was a notable feat for Byrne who was returning to competition having badly damaged his eye in a hunting accident over Christmas. In a race against time to not only achieve his own fitness but also to secure a Millstreet qualification, Byrne and his Ballindenisk CCI4-L winning partner Kilcannon Ramiro, creditably achieved their goal by completing on their opening score. Looking polished in every sector, the Fethard-based pair had filled second spot on the flat, before progressing to deliver one of just two cross-country rounds within the time.

“While Millstreet has always been my aim, I have had three operations since Christmas and wasn’t able to do anything for nearly four months,” he explained. “As a result, I have been totally dependent on my back-up team at home as well as my parents Lelia and James who have been taking me backwards and forwards to hospital. I have to thank Alison Connolly, Jack Dylan, James English and Tilda Kvisla for all keeping the show on the road, as only for them I wouldn’t be here competing today.”

With a high-class field of 12, which included the championship pairing of Cathal Daniels and Rioghan Rua, the class was a hot one. Trish Ryan and The Caped Crusader were the opening leaders on 26.1, closely followed by Byrne who was just one mark adrift. Neck and neck, both were clear over the coloured poles, but following an influentially tight cross-country time, the order changed significantly. Adding a costly 16.4 to her opening score, Ryan slipped out of contention, gifting Byrne the top spot by a margin of six marks, and handing a second placed promotion to Ian Cassells and Woodendfarm Jack OD.

As the only other combination to make the time allowed, Olivia Swan enjoyed a storming round with the foot-perfect thoroughbred Clonakilty Bay to fill third. There were no jumping penalties in the country, although following a smart dressage mark and at the time, well in touch with the leaders, Joseph Murphy with new ride Alcatraz will be kicking himself for missing a fence.