The 2020 Nations Cup season kicks off at Deeridge in Florida on Sunday, with Ireland hoping to repeat its encouraging run of first and second places achieved throughout the last four years.

Recently appointed show jumping High Performance Manager Michael Blake has named his squad of five, from whom four will be selected for the competition on Sunday.

The squad is:

Capt. Brian Cournane – Armik

Darragh Kenny – Romeo 88

Cian O’Connor – Lazzaro Delle Schiave

Paul O’Shea – Imerald Van’t Voorhof

Billy Twomey – Lady Lou

Though Deeridge does not count towards the ranking points for the Division One European Nations Cup Series in which Ireland competes, the Florida outing traditionally offers the Chef d’Equipe and High Performance Committee an early glimpse of how some of its top riders and horses are performing. 

This year will be particularly important, and will attract closer scrutiny, because the Olympics at Tokyo in August will see Ireland field a show jumping team for the first time in many years.

Qualification for Tokyo, together with last year’s Nations Cup Final crown and the European Championship title of 2017, were achieved by a resurgent Ireland under the tutelage of Chef d’Equipe Rodrigo Pessoa and his assistant Michael Blake.

Michael Blake

With the scheduled departure of Pessoa at the end of last year, the governing body, Horse Sport Ireland, appointed Blake as his successor, which was seen by most as a logical move to help maintain the continuity and esprit de corps that had produced such recent prestige wins for Ireland’s show jumpers.

However, a pivotal role in all the recent achievements was also played by a new show jumping High Performance Committee under the chairmanship of veteran coach and competitor, Gerry Mullins.

Horse Sport Ireland’s protocol dictated that this committee’s contract would expire on December 31st, 2019. A confirmation of the new committee – decided by the HSI Chairman – would then follow.

Yet at the time of writing (mid-February), no statement has been issued by Horse Sport Ireland to ratify that Mullins’s winning team would remain in place, as common sense might dictate, or whether a new high performance committee has been assembled.

It seems odd that a decision on the personnel who will make up this important body has either not already been made, or perhaps simply not announced to the public.

With preparations for Tokyo taking top billing for Ireland’s show jumpers and the competition itself just over six months away, this gap in information about the High Performance Committee appears to suggest a worrying lack of urgency in the governing body’s strategic competition plan for the crucial year of 2020.

-Colin McClelland