“As an Irish rider, it’s something that is a lifetime goal”

Conor Swail, Shane Sweetnam, Cian O'Connor and Max Wachman with The Aga Khan perpetual Trophy. Credit: Breandán Ó hUallacháin.

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Ireland’s Aga Khan-winning hero Conor Swail described today’s win – his first in the famous competition – as “fantastic”.

Swail and Count Me In jumped three clear rounds during the competition proper and the jump-off that following to give the home side a first victory in the competition since 2015.

“This is my first time (winning) also like Shane (Sweetnam). This is my third Aga Khan,” Swail explained. “It’s fantastic. As an Irish rider it’s something that is a lifetime goal – thankfully I have achieved that. The horse (Count Me In) has jumped like that all year – it was no surprise whatsoever – he is so fast.”

Ireland team manager Michael Blake quipped “it has not been a bad six days” referring to Friday’s victory and Ireland qualifying for the Paris Olympic Games earlier this week.

The Clare man explained that he was very confident coming into today’s Longines Nations Cup of Ireland:

“Coming here I thought we had a very very good chance – I felt it was ours to lose. We started off really really well and then had a few uncharacteristic mistakes. There was a little pressure on us. Conor (Swail) was just amazing. He asked me could he be on the Aga Khan team earlier in the year.”

Kanturk, Co Cork-native Shane Sweetnam who jumped clear with The Irish Sport Horse James Kann Cruz in the first round, said:

“He jumped special in the first round, especially when it was raining – he knew he was home! Then in the second round, a little mistake – obviously I made it myself.”

For the US-based rider, it was also a first Aga Khan win:

“It’s great to win. This was my fourth Aga Khan and it has always been a dream to win The Aga Khan, so I’m thrilled, thrilled with the horse and thrilled with my team members.”

It was certainly a dream come true for eighteen-year-old Tipperary rider Max Wachman, winning his first Aga Khan Trophy in his first outing in the Longines Nations Cup of Ireland.

“It’s a dream come true,” Wachman said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was about ten years old. To be on a team with such brilliant riders is amazing. I’m just thrilled. He (Berlux Z) is eleven years old, he’s a very experienced horse and he’s a good horse and he jumped good today.”

Meath’s Cian O’Connor, Ireland’s anchor leg rider yet again, spoke highly during the winners’ press conference about his Irish Sport Horse Kilkenny.

“I was thrilled with him. I couldn’t be happier. It’s like when the bell goes and you head down to the first fence on a big rhythm and it just feels like he owns the ring. All I have to do is not get in his way and not make a mistake. It was really just good fun riding him around there.”

Winning The Aga Khan Perpetual Trophy is always special for all Irish riders. Team manager Michael Blake best summed up what winning the home Nations Cup means in front of the RDS crowd:

“The crowd so understand the sport and it means so much to them, and it means so much to us. We win plenty Nations Cup but this is an extra stratosphere.”

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