Defending champions from Belgium have to settle for second, Sweden finish third
The Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final 2019 came to thrilling climax today, and it was Irish eyes that were smiling when Rodrigo Pessoa’s team of Peter Moloney, Paul O’Shea, Darragh Kenny and Cian O’Connor clinched victory in fine style. Completing with just a single time fault, they pinned the defending champions from Belgium into runner-up spot while Sweden lined up in third. And to put the icing on the Irish cake they also collected the Olympic qualifying spot they have been craving for a very long time.
Brilliant course-building by Spain’s Santiago Varela, who will also be presenting the tracks in Tokyo next summer, ensured another nail-biting afternoon during which it was impossible to predict the destiny of the coveted series trophy until the very last moment. But the Irish had already booked their Tokyo tickets before anchorman O’Connor went into the ring.
A single mistake from pathfinder Moloney and Chianti’s Champion at the massive triple combination three from home was followed by a superb clear from O’Shea and Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu. So when Kenny and Balou du Reventon collected just that single time fault then the road to Tokyo was already closed to their rivals from Colombia and Italy.
And then O’Connor turned a great day into an amazing one with a foot-perfect run from PSG Final because that put pressure on the Belgians for the Longines series title. The newly-crowned European champions posted clears from Olivier Philippaerts (H&M Extra) and Jerome Guery (Quel Homme de Hus) and were looking good for their second victory in a row. One more clean run from anchorman Gregory Wathelet and MJT Nevados would clinch it because they could drop the unlucky four picked up by Niels Bruynseels and Jenson van’t Meulenhof at the very last fence. But, to gasps of disbelief from the crowd, Wathelet’s stallion uncharacteristically ducked out at the penultimate vertical, so Bruynseels’ four had to be counted and that would only be good enough for second place.
“We had a very clear objective coming here, the riders were super-focused and the horses were in great shape”, said Irish Chef d’Equipe Rodrigo Pessoa. “Today we expected a very tough fight from Italy and Colombia who were our direct opponents (for Tokyo qualification), but as it happened we were also holding strong against the big countries like Belgium and others. People sometimes don’t realise the pressure the riders are under to bring this qualification home. The weight of their country was on their shoulders, it was a big ask from them today and to do it in the style they did it – hats off to them!” said Irish Chef d’Equipe Rodrigo Pessoa.
O’Connor, a member of the last Olympic team fielded by Ireland in Athens (GRE) in 2004, pointed out that 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. And 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 this 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!”
Kenny said he realised how important his ride was. “I was a bit nervous going in the ring but I’m very lucky, I’ve an incredible horse, he’s absolutely amazing and he tried so hard. On Thursday he jumped an incredible clear and today I was just trying to make sure I left all the jumps up. Unfortunately Santi (Santiago Varela, course designer) told me that I was the only person to get a time fault! My goal coming here was to try and do a double-clear, to try and get Ireland to Tokyo, that was the most important thing, and I’m glad I could be part of this great team. We were all fighting together, that was the most important thing”, he added.
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.
There was a great sense of satisfaction for Pessoa this evening. “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.
What they said……
Peter Moloney, when asked about the pressure of going first – “Yes there was a bit of pressure but this was our goal all year to qualify, unfortunately it didn’t go our way in Rotterdam but everyone pulled together this time, everyone was on the same page and working really hard. I was first to go, lucky to have a really great horse and that makes it a good bit easier. My horse jumped amazing, just a little touch there in the combination, but as the day went on it wasn’t such a bad score, I was very happy with it!”
Paul O’Shea – “Machu jumped really well, I was very happy with him. On Thursday he jumped great and I made a mistake myself and it was a while before I could get asleep on Thursday night because I wasn’t feeling too good because we could have jumped a clear round easily. We were determined today and he really gave it 110%!”
Shane Sweetnam, talking about being fifth man – “Honestly it’s way more nerve-wracking on the ground than when you’re riding! For all of us, there’s another 10 guys in the wings who could be in contention for next year, especially in Ireland because it’s been a while since we qualified – to finally get this after all the waiting it’s amazing, and hopefully I’ll be in Japan next year!
Darragh Kenny – “I love to jump for my country, it’s the most important thing you can do, and today to pull off that clear round and make us go to Tokyo that was so important for me. I’ve always dreamed of going to an Olympics, it’s a dream everyone has, so to be able to qualify us and have the chance of going is fantastic, and we’re so lucky as a team that we managed to pull it off today and to win was a great bonus!”
Cian O’Connor – “Thursday was a really important day to qualify, I rushed my horse a little bit and had two down that day but thankfully the guys did such a good job to get us through. There’s an Irish commentator who says that ” In horses sometimes you’re the dog and some days you’re the lamp-post!” I’m happy it was the other way around this week.!” It’s a fantastic show, Santi does a great job, although he’s the only course builder that never makes a mistake – he wouldn’t concede that the time was a little bit short on Thursday though!!
Cian O’Connor – “The Olympics is something that has consumed my life for over 20 years. When I started I somewhat cockily put on the side of my truck “working towards the Olympics in 2004”, and we went to the Olympic Games and we won it. History has been written since then, it was a tough period for me, but I battled to get to the London Olympics and I won a bronze medal there, something I will have forever. And since then we’ve struggled to get there so obviously it’s very emotional to be part of this great squad and to have a chance to go to Tokyo. As Shane said, this has opened the door to other people, there’s so much strength in the depth in the Irish riders, so it won’t necessarily be this group of people but hopefully we are in with a shout of going to Tokyo. It gives a great impetus to other people to get behind the team, to get behind the Irish riders, to look for horses before the end of the year and possibly support them for the Olympic Games. The Olympics are the place to be.
Rodrigo Pessoa – “When you’re on the ground it’s much harder, because you can’t do anything about it. You have to trust in the riders and the horses that everything is to go well, these are high-calibre horses an riders so you need to have confidence that everything will go well and not think about the negative aspects. We can never underestimate the amount of mental pressure on the riders,
Rodrigo Pessoa, when asked if he will still be leading the Irish team in Toky – “I’ll be in Tokyo, I’ll be there! Today it’s about the team, our organisation, we came with a clear objective to get the ticket, something we were waiting for a long time – since 2004. Ireland is a great equestrian nation, we already had two disciplines qualified – I was called in a few years ago to do a job and mission accomplished. As Cian said he won two big classes in two years but they were two good ones! (Referring to team gold at the European Championships in Gothenburg 2017 and today’s Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final win + Olympic qualification).