In what may well be one of the most vital years in Irish international show jumping, Team Manager Rodrigo Pessoa has named his five-man squad for the first of four Nations Cups in which Ireland will compete during 2019.

With no team qualification for the Olympics yet achieved – after a depressing 15 year gap – Pessoa is marshalling the strongest squads available to him to bid for the last two team openings available for Tokyo in 2020.

The first of the FEI Super League Nations Cups will take place at La Baule in France on Friday May 17, and Pessoa will select his team of four from the following rider/horse combinations:

Shane Sweetnam – Indra Van De Oude Heihoef
Paul O’Shea – Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu
Darragh Kenny – Balou Du Reventon
Cian O’Connor – Irenice Horta
Mark McAuley -Vivaldi Du Theil

The Nations Cups series has more than glory riding on it this year – one of the two Olympic qualifying spots remaining can be gained at the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona in September. However, this will be the very last roll of the dice for Ireland, as the European Championships in Rotterdam in August are sure to be the first target for the Brazilian-born manager, and it’s only if his team fails to secure Olympic qualification there that Barcelona comes into sharp focus as the backstop.

Team manager Rodrigo Pessoa

“Everything we do this year is with a view to the Championships but we also cannot underestimate what we have to do in Division 1 of the Nations Cup,” Pessoa said today. 

Describing his squad for La Baule, he went on: “For Cian O’Connor this will be his first time in a Nations Cup with Irenice Horta who is a new purchase and it is a very exciting combination.

“Paul O’Shea and Machu Picchu recently won a big Grand Prix in Kentucky and Shane Sweetnam has saved Indra recently and has not jumped much and we know what they can do.

“Darragh Kenny and Balou were second just last week in Shanghai so are in good form and Mark McAuley with Vivaldi Du Theil were also recently competing in Shanghai – so we feel we have a very strong team.”

Ireland’s three other Nations Cups this year in which they can gain enough points for the Barcelona Final will be at Sopot in Poland on June 16th, Hickstead in England on July 26th, and the Dublin Horse Show on August 9th.

Ireland won the European Championships under Pessoa’s management in 2017 with the team of Shane Sweetnam, Denis Lynch, Bertram Allen and Cian O’Connor.

-Jack Burns