Ireland’s long hunt for an Olympic team show jumping place ended today in the Spanish sunshine of the Real Club de Polo in Barcelona, where Peter Moloney, Paul O’Shea, Darragh Kenny and Cian O’Connor produced the magic necessary to not only guarantee a place at Tokyo in 2020 but also win the Nations Cup Final.

Through to the second round after finishing in the top eight qualifying teams on Thursday, today’s performance showed Irish show jumping at its best, with just one time fault on the board after battling a formidable world-class 1m60 course.

Needing to beat both Italy and Colombia today to claim the one Olympic team place available, the Irish quartet left no doubt as to their superiority under pressure, with Italy ending up in fourth place on 12 faults, and Colombia finishing in eighth place on 24 faults.

Gerry Mullins, Chairman of the Horse Sport Ireland High Performance Committee, said afterwards: ”This is a tremendous achievement. It was a hard day right from the start for all concerned – you had one round in which to be a hero, there was no second chance, no second round where you could improve on your score, and that’s very hard to do.”

It is also a triple triumph for Chef d’Equipe Rodrigo Pessoa, who steered Ireland to its first European Championship win in 16 years at Gothenburg in 2017, and has now added a Nations Cup Final victory to the tally, alongside the previously elusive team place at the Olympics, the first since 2004.

The only pole dropped by Ireland today came from Nations Cup Final debutant Peter Moloney with Chianti’s Champion. Paul O’Shea followed this with a superb clear on Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu, while Darragh Kenny came home with just a single time fault with Balou du Reventon. Ireland’s standing at this point meant that seasoned anchorman Cian O’Connor didn’t need to go clear on PSG Final to secure the Olympic qualification, but he did so anyway and gave Ireland the added bonus of a Nations Cup Final win.

Ireland’s winning Nations Cup Final team, from left: Paul O’Shea, Peter Moloney, Chef d’Equipe Rodrigo Pessoa, Darragh Kenny and Cian O’Connor.

Today’s result means that for the first time Ireland will field Olympic equestrian teams in three disciplines – show jumping, dressage and eventing, an achievement that has been made possible not just by Horse Sport Ireland’s decision to populate its High Performance committees with experienced horse-savvy members, but also the co-operation of many owners. In show jumping, tribute will also be paid to the skill of Rodrigo Pessoa in managing riders and horses in a competition field now crowded by other big-money leagues and Grand Prix events that had the potential to draw Irish talent away from vital Nations Cup appearances.

-Colin McClelland