The winds of change continue to blow at Ireland’s governing body, Horse Sport Ireland, following the departure of long-term CEO Damian McDonald at the end of December.
With a brand new High Performance show jumping committee headed up by world-renowned rider and coach Gerry Mullins, HSI today revealed its first Nations’ Cup squad for 2017 – and the accent is very much on youth, with most of the riders in their teens or twenties.
It is hard not to be reminded of the Irish “Young Guns” squad that swept all before them to win the Nations’ Cup series in 2000 and in the process produced elite riders who are still at the top of their game 17 years later.
However, while this may be a big ask for this year’s untried combinations, it raises hopes that the formation of at least one Irish reserve Nations’ Cup squad is in the making, similar to those that other competing countries have had for years (Germany, for instance, declared both their A and B teams in October of 2016).
The new Irish squad will taste their first action at the five-star Al Ain venue in the United Arab Emirates on February 16 under the experienced eye of seasoned campaigner Cameron Hanley as Chef d’Equipe – another departure from the textbook.
The squad is:
Anthony Condon (30) with Balzac
Michael Duffy (22) with Belcanto
Paul Kennedy (23) with Cartown Danger Mouse
Michael Pender (17) with Can Ya Makan
David Simpson (28) with Chessy 17
Hanley, a veteran of many Nations’ Cup battles and still one of Ireland’s top riders, said: “I’m really looking forward to being involved with the team in Al Ain. It’s a young team and this is a great opportunity for them to compete as a team at a five-star level. Even though this will be more about gaining experience, they are all professionals and I expect them to be very competitive.”
Meanwhile in the USA a more experienced squad will represent Ireland at the Nations’ Cup in Ocala, Florida the following day, February 17.
The team of four will be drawn from:
Kevin Babington with Shorapur
Andrew Bourns with CHS Inception
Richie Moloney with Carrabis Z
Cian O’Connor with Seringat
Shane Sweetman with Chaqui Z
The Irish Chef d’Equipe for Ocala will be Michael Blake, who also sits on the new High Performance show jumping committee as Riders’ Representative.
A permanent Chef d’Equipe for the senior team is likely to be announced shortly. It is believed that four candidates are under consideration for the role, but the incumbent will face a tough task – getting an Irish team into the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, after a 12 year drought during which Ireland qualified no Olympic show jumping teams at all.
It is thought that three people have applied for the post of senior Eventing Chef d’Equipe, and an announcement is also expected soon on that subject.
*Neither Ocala nor Al Ain are part of the Nations’ Cup Division One series, so Ireland will be competing for experience rather than points at both venues. The first points will accrue for the European series at La Baule in France in May of this year.