Michael Blake’s Irish team mixed it with a host of points-chasing countries and came out on top in Friday evening’s three-star Nations Cup of Norway at Drammen.

There were no points at stake for the Irish in this Division 2 qualifier, but, significantly, they held off the challenge of a strong Belgian team who had been in the elite division last year and were chasing the maximum points in their bid to return to the top level.

It was a contest undecided until Capt. Geoff Curran settled matters as last to go when coming home with just four faults on Ringwood Glen to keep the Belgians in second spot.

Despite an unhappy start when Alexander Butler retired with Hallowberry Cruz, Mark McAuley (Utchan De Belheme), Cameron Hanley (Quirex) and Curran conspired to drive Ireland into the lead at halfway on ten faults, two clear of the Netherlands and seven in front of Belgium.

The Dutch fell away quickly in the second round, but the Belgians kept the pressure on, and Ireland’s lead was cut to five faults ahead of Curran’s final round. The army rider managed to keep the damage to four faults and get home in time to secure the win. “I had a feeling that I might have been in the water and I knew I was tight enough on the time allowed but I kept the same plan of doing eight strides down to the last fence”, Curran said.

The French team put in a good second round to take third place in the contest.

The win marked the third time in a row this year that a team managed by Michael Blake has emerged victorious, following successes at Ocala in February and Wellington in March.

“I knew that this was going to be tough but I also knew we had a good team”, said the manager. “I’m over the moon and the lads did a fantastic job.”

Mike Dunne

Nations Cup of Norway
1st. Ireland 20 (Hallowberry CruzAlexander Butler ret/9; Utchan De Belheme/Mark McAuley 5/1; Quirex/Cameron Hanley 1/5; Ringwood Glenn/Capt. Geoff Curran 4/4);

2nd. Belgium 21; 3rd. France 24; 4th. Netherlands 29; 5th. Great Britain 33; 6th. Poland 34; 7th. Sweden 45; 8th. Luxembourg 48. (Italy, Norway, Turkey, Finland and Denmark unplaced)