Manager Rodrigo Pessoa and his Irish team extracted a precious share of third place when seemingly up against the odds in the Italian Nations Cup in Rome this afternoon.
Still without the services of the injured Cian O’Connor and having to adjust for the eleventh-hour loss of Michael Duffy’s Belcanto Z to the team following a change of ownership, the new manager must have been a little concerned facing into a in a contest populated by countries boasting a far greater sprinkling of their best performers.
In such circumstances it was a remarkable afternoon’s work by the Irish team, with only the strongly-fancied home side and the Netherlands finishing above them. Right at the death there was even the possibility of a tie for second, but the last Dutch rider left everything standing to claim the runner-up position when victory was already gone to the hosts.
Shane Sweetnam kicked things off for the Irish and was doing quite nicely with Chaqui Z until the third-last, the water, and the following oxer cost him eight faults, with the clock adding another.
Those two obstacles proved most troublesome to the Irish and many of their rivals as well. Apart from Shane Breen’s first round four with Golden Hawk, all other jumping faults incurred by Irish riders came on that water to oxer line before the turn to the last.
Paul Kennedy was second in for Ireland on Cartown Danger Mouse and cleared everything except the water, coming home inside the time. Mark McAuley followed on Utchan De Belheme and the pairing were clear after the water but the oxer caught them out, as did the clock.
Shane Breen and Golden Hawk then came home with four faults, leaving Ireland on 13 at halfway in a share of sixth.
However Sweetnam breathed new life into the Irish challenge with a second-round clear, before Kennedy this time posted eight, the water to oxer line doing the damage once more. McAuley’s second effort was a repeat of the first, clear past the water but the oxer struck again, though this time there was no time fault.
Anchorman Shane Breen then stepped in to complete the Irish challenge with a perfect round, and, with France and Sweden slipping, Ireland’s standing improved to a share of third.
Italy had the contest won by the time the third rider had completed for each country, with the Netherlands holding onto second. It was Italy’s first win at home for over thirty years.
Tied with Ireland were Spain, who themselves put in a solid second round, while France and a somewhat unlucky Sweden tied for fifth.
Nations Cup of Italy
1. Italy 9; 2. Netherlands 13; =3. Ireland 17; = 3. Spain 17; = 5. France 20; = 5. Sweden 20; 7. Switzerland 24; 8. Canada 29.
Irish scores: Shane Sweetnam (Chaqui Z) 9/0; Paul Kennedy (Cartown Danger Mouse) 4/8; Mark McAuley (Utchan De Belheme) 5/4; Shane Breen (Golden Hawk) 4/0