Ireland will be represented by teams in all disciplines at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games for the first time.
Peter Moloney, Paul O’Shea, Darragh Kenny and Cian O’Connor claimed a magnificent victory in Sunday’s €1.25 Million Longines FEI Nations Cup World Final in Barcelona to seal Ireland’s first Olympic team qualification in 15 years.
The team finished on a score of just one time fault, to beat the best teams in the world and book the all-important ticket to Tokyo 2020.
Irish team manager Rodrigo Pessoa said the riders fought really hard for the win. “It’s a lot of pressure. People don’t really realise the amount of pressure that is on these riders to bring this qualification home. The weight of the country is on their shoulders. It was a big ask for them today and to do it the way that they did – hats off to all five of them.”
A day of drama saw Waterford’s Peter Moloney and the Team Harmony-owned Chianti’s Champion get Ireland off to a good start, when they finished with just one fence down, which was the best round of the competition at that stage.
A superb clear round from Ireland’s second rider, Paul O’Shea with Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu, owned by Machu Picchu Partners LLC, put real pressure on Italy and Colombia – Ireland’s rivals for the Olympic place.
Another clear followed from Offaly’s Darragh Kenny with Balou du Reventon owned by Ann Thompson, and when Colombia and Italy’s third riders both picked up faults, Ireland’s place at the Tokyo Olympics was secured with one rider still to jump.
That one time fault cost him a share of the €100,000 bonus for double-clear rounds that instead was divided between Belgium’s Olivier Philippaerts and Germany’s Daniel Deusser.
But the battle to win the Longines FEI Nations Cup Final still hung in the balance, and a third Irish clear round from Meath’s Cian O’Connor with PSG Final, owned by Ronnoco Jump Ltd, saw Ireland heap pressure on Belgium which had been leading. The last Belgian rider looked to be heading for a clear round which would have given them their second Nations Cup Final win in a row. But Gregory Wathelet and his horse MJT Nevados S had a run-out at the combination on the final line, meaning Ireland was crowned Longines FEI Nations Cup winners for the first time in history.
O’Connor, a member of the last Olympic team fielded by Ireland in Athens in 2004, said the Longines title was always in their sights this week. “Our aim was to win this trophy all along, obviously the Olympic qualification was also our goal, but you don’t come here just to qualify – we came here to win, and by doing so we got the bonus of qualification!” he said.
The team honoured one of the members of that 2004 Irish side, Kevin Babington who finished individually fourth with the great Carling King that year and who experienced a life-changing accident four weeks ago, by wearing armbands bearing his name throughout the week.
Pessoa was delighted with the spirit shown by his riders. “With teams, there are good days and bad days … there’s a lot of chemistry, but the most important thing is that on the day it really counts, everyone sticks together and pulls the same way. People can leave their personal issues on the side and really pull for the country and that’s what happened here. I’m really proud of what they did today!”
There was a great sense of satisfaction for Pessoa in the win. “We already had two disciplines qualified (dressage and eventing) but it’s been a long time since Ireland, a great equestrian nation, has been at the Olympics Games in showjumping and it was this team’s responsibility to bring it home. That for me was the most stressful thing today, to feel what they felt and how hard it must have been for them to ride in those conditions. They had such a great mental attitude – nothing could have stopped them from achieving what they did. I was called in a few years ago to do a job (achieve Olympic Jumping qualification) so now it’s mission accomplished!”, he said.
The course at Barcelona was built by Spain’s Santiago Varela, who will also be presenting the tracks in Tokyo next summer.