By Mike Dunne

Ireland lived up to all expectations in Friday’s Nations Cup competition at Dublin Horse Show but still didn’t lift the Aga Khan trophy because they came up against an Italian team that excelled on the day.

Nine rounds were jumped in total by Ireland’s foursome and in only one of those did any poles tumble. What happened in the jump-off was something no one would have envisaged. Denis Lynch cleared the second last after setting a very good pace with All Star and the home crowd were getting ready to cheer the house down when, in an almost unimaginable twist, the thus-far faultless horse swayed away from the final fence for a run-out. It cost six faults and meant Italy’s Piergiorgio Bucci and Casallo Z just had to get around with minimal damage to win it for the visitors. The Italian reserve combination for the Olympics could have afforded to have a fence down but came home in the clear and Ireland had to settle for second.

It was tough on Lynch who hadn’t actually knocked anything all day, and on his team-mates who had done brilliantly only to be denied so cruelly. Lynch had opened with a clear for Ireland and got around intact second time out as well but unluckily picked up a time fault by a fraction, though it didn’t count in the end. Greg Broderick served up two clears with MHS Going Global, and while Bertram Allen and Hector van d’Abdijhoeve faulted at the first and last fences in round one – which didn’t have to count as it turned out – they delivered a zero round second time out. Cian O’Connor and Good Luck produced clears at both attempts. Yet all the while Italy just would not buckle in the face of such outstanding opposition, and when Bruno Chimirri and Tower Mouche as last to go delivered their final clear, there was no separating the two nations without a jump-off  – though for a moment it seemed he might not make the time allowed, but he got there by just over half a second.

However, despite the heart-break of the decider, Ireland did have something to be happy about – the result was good enough to clinch qualification for the annual Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona in two months’ time, which also ensures that Ireland retain their Nations Cup Europe Division 1 status for next year. For their part, the Italians have all but secured their place in Barcelona as well – not a bad day’s work for a team that had come to Dublin propping up the league table and without their sole Rio hope Emanuele Guadiano.

Ireland, are technically now second in the league standings even though the official table shows them as fifth because points owed from a cancelled event in Lummen earlier in the season will not be allocated until next week’s final event in the series is completed at Hickstead. The lowest Ireland can finish is fourth, as only Switzerland and Italy, who both compete at Hickstead, can now overtake them in the standings. Whatever happens, the ticket to Barcelona was clinched by the Aga Khan result.

There is €2 million in prize money on offer in that Nations Cup Final in September, and if Robert Splaine has his best team available again there is every possibility of Ireland taking a large slice of it – and by then there may actually be two Olympic medallists on the Irish team.