Ireland’s show jumping team has qualified for the Olympic Games for the first time in 15 years.
It comes after they won yesterday’s €1.25m Longines FEI Nations Cup World Final in Barcelona.
The Minister for Sport, Shane Ross, congratulated the team saying: “I am delighted to congratulate the Irish Showjumping Team on their magnificent achievement in the Longines FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona and on qualifying for the Olympic Games.
“It has been a wonderful 12 months for Irish Equestrian Sport with our Eventing Team winning the team Silver at last year’s World Equestrian Games in North Carolina and in the process qualifying for Tokyo and our Dressage Team qualifying for the Games for the first time ever at the European Championships in Rotterdam in August this year.
“The team performed brilliantly under enormous pressure today to qualify for Tokyo and they can now focus all their energies on preparing for next year’s Games.”
The Minister with responsibility for Sport, Mr. Brendan Griffin said: “Congratulations to the Irish Showjumping Team on winning the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona and also on qualifying for the Olympics.
“It is the first time since Athens in 2004 that Ireland has qualified a show jumping team for the Games and is a huge boost to everyone involved in the sport.
“The team of Peter Moloney, Paul O’Shea, Darragh Kenny and Cian O’Connor and manager Rodrigo Pessoa can feel very proud of their performance and I would like to wish them all the best in their preparations for Tokyo.
Pessoa’s team finished with just one time fault in their win. The result means that for the first time in history, Ireland will be represented at an Olympic Games by teams in Eventing, Dressage and Show Jumping.
Waterford’s Peter Moloney and the Team Harmony-owned Chianti’s Champion got Ireland off to a good start, when they finished with just one fence down, which was the best round of the competition at that stage.
Moloney admitted it was the team’s goal to qualify for the Olympics.
He said: “I am very lucky to have a very good horse in Chianti’s Champion and that makes it a little bit easier. We are very fortunate to have great backing from all the guys on the team and from Rodrigo and from Horse Sport Ireland and all the High Performance Committee.”
A superb clear round from Ireland’s second rider, Paul O’Shea with Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu, owned by Machu Picchu Partners LLC, put real pressure on Italy and Colombia – Ireland’s rivals for the Olympic place.
O’Shea said: “Machu Picchu jumped great – I was really happy with him. On Thursday he jumped great and I made a mistake and I can assure you on Thursday night I wasn’t happy with myself and it was a while before I could get to sleep.
“We were determined today and he really gave it 100 percent and was just a pleasure to ride. Macchu Picchu is owned by a syndicate and not all of them could be here today but I am very grateful to them for keeping him for me to do this and I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Another clear followed from Offaly’s Darragh Kenny with Balou du Reventon owned by Ann Thompson, and when Colombia and Italy’s third riders both picked up faults, Ireland’s place at the Tokyo Olympics was secured with one rider still to jump.
Kenny said: “I knew going in the ring that it was a very, very important round for us and I knew we had a great chance of getting the ticket done with that round so I was a bit nervous going in the ring but I am very lucky that I have an incredible horse, he is absolutely amazing.
“He tries so hard all the time. On Thursday he jumped amazing and today I was just trying to make sure that I left all the jumps up.”
The battle to win the Longines FEI Nations Cup Final still hung in the balance however, and a third Irish clear round from Meath’s Cian O’Connor with PSG Final, owned by Ronnoco Jump Ltd, saw Ireland heap pressure on Belgium who had been leading.
O’Connor said: “Thursday was a really important day obviously to try and qualify and I rushed my horse a little bit and had two down. Thankfully the guys did such a good job to get us through.
“There is an Irish commentator at home and he sometimes says, “with horses, sometimes you are the dog and the next day you are the lamp post,” I am just happy that I got it the other way around today.”
The last Belgian rider looked to be heading for a clear round which would have given them their second Nations Cup Final win in-a-row.
However, Gregory Wathelet, and his horse MJT Nevados S, had a run-out at the combination on the final line, giving Ireland the Longines FEI Nations Cup crown for the first time in history.
Irish team manager Rodrigo Pessoa said: “We had a very clear objective coming here, to get the ticket [to Tokyo] and the five riders that were here fought really hard. It’s a lot of pressure. People don’t really realise the amount of pressure that is on these riders to bring this qualification home. The weight of the country is on their shoulders. It was a big ask for them today and to do it the way that they did – hats off to all five of them.”
Irish squad member Shane Sweetnam revealed he was more nervous than the riders competing in the arena.
He said: “Honestly, it is way more nerve wracking on the ground then when you are riding. This is for all of us, not just the five that are here.
“There are another 10 guys waiting behind us that will be in contention for next year. We are all part of the squad and hopefully I will be in Japan next year.”