Ireland took their first European Show Jumping Championship victory in 16 years at Gothenburg in Sweden tonight, with clear rounds from Shane Sweetnam, Denis Lynch and Cian O’Connor.
Under the aegis of new team manager Rodrigo Pessoa, the Irish team performed at the very top of its game through the three rounds and managed to claim the medal on the scores of just three riders, after Bertram Allen and Hector van d’Abdijhoeve were eliminated following a fall yesterday and withdrew from subsequent competition.
Tying for team third place with Belgium as the trio entered the Ullevi championship arena tonight, it seemed like it would be an uphill struggle for Ireland to stay in medal contention without the benefit of a discard score, but from the first unswerving round from Shane Sweetnam and Chaqui Z it started to look as if the Irish team had bigger things on its mind.
And so it proved, as Denis Lynch produced an unfaltering round aboard All Star, and with the opposition starting to crumble as fences began to fall, Cian O’Connor and the stallion Good Luck came in last for Ireland with a fence in hand. O’Connor didn’t have to use his margin for error, as Good Luck delivered yet another faultless round, and left Ireland free and clear to claim the European Gold Medal.
The victory was also vindication for new show jumping team manger Rodrigo Pessoa, who was tasked with returning a lacklustre Irish championship squad to top form within a very limited timeframe, and who did so tonight with over six points in hand over runners-up Sweden and more than eight points clear of third-placed Switzerland.
Pessoa, who was presented with a satin Irish tricolour jacket by his riders at the medal ceremony tonight said: “These are great guys, they’re a terrific group and we’ve had a lot of fun as well as having to get very serious at times, but they have been unbelievable here all week.”
Ireland’s turn in the spotlight is not over at Gothenburg, though. Two Irish riders are still in contention for individual medals – Shane Sweetnam in third place overall, and Cian O’Connor in fourth. The individual final takes place on Sunday, with all riders having Saturday off.
Ireland’s 2001 European gold medal-winning team at Arnhem in the Netherlands was Kevin Babington, Jessica Kürten (who commentated at Gothenburg tonight), Peter Charles and Dermott Lennon. Ireland have won the European title twice – at Arnhem and tonight at Gothenburg.