Ireland are the new FEI European Show Jumping champions having won the title for the first time since 2001, and for just the second time ever, after a stunning performance at the Longines FEI European Championships at Gothenburg, Sweden, on Friday night.
Shane Sweetnam, Bertram Allen, Denis Lynch and Cian O’Connor produced an outstanding performance over three demanding days of jumping, to snatch the coveted gold medal from hosts Sweden who had lead going into the final day at the Ullevi arena.
The Irish team started Friday reduced to three riders as Wexford’s Bertram Allen had to withdraw from the final round after a fall on Thursday. This meant there was little room for error for the remaining three Irish combinations as they would not have a discard score.
Cork’s Shane Sweetnam got his team off to a perfect start with a clear round aboard Chaqui Z when first to go. Denis Lynch heaped the pressure on Sweden, Switzerland (who were lying in second) and Belgium who had been tied third with Ireland after Thursday’s second round. Lynch and his stallion All Star crossed the line with a breath-taking clear round and as poles began to fall for the other teams Ireland moved into the gold medal position.
Cian O’Connor, so often Ireland’s anchor rider in Nations Cups competitions, entered the ring as the final Irish rider knowing a clear or one fence down would give his team the gold medal. Riding the stallion Good Luck O’Connor showed his experience and remained cool under pressure and the combination produced a flawless clear round making Ireland the 2017 European Show Jumping Champions.
The hosts Sweden claimed the silver medal in front of an ecstatic home crowd, while Switzerland took home the bronze.
A delighted Rodrigo Pessoa, who is in his first year as Senior High Performance Director, a position which incorporates the role of Team Manager/Chef d’Équipe, said of the success:
“I am really proud of all our riders. This win is really special. This was the goal at the start of the season, the road has been bumpy but we stuck together and showed a lot of character. I want to thank our sponsors The Underwriting Exchange, Devenish and our clothing sponsors Equiline who have been a fantastic support to us during this year. I also want to thank all our horses’ owners for their incredible support and all the staff at Horse Sport Ireland.”
The Brazilian went on:
“We had some things that happened during the year and this week too, but we stuck together, we said we win together or we lose together and they showed a lot of determination and strength today, and I’m really proud of them for sure!”
Speaking about the Irish team’s experience during the week, Shane Sweetnam opined:
“It was fairly stressful all week to be honest. We had a big aim all year, but things didn’t go our way, there was a long time between the classes and from yesterday to today, when we knew we were down to three. We had a good dinner last night, we got together and we said we’ll keep fighting for this. As you know the Irish are always better as underdogs, and we proved that, so we are very happy to be here now!”
His fellow Munster man, Germany-based Denis Lynch, added:
“What you’re here for is to deliver. Sadly I didn’t do it yesterday which would have given us a better advantage, I had the last fence down, which I take on my cap, but tonight I put the ball in the net and did what was expected of me”
London Olympic Games bronze medallist in 2012, Cian O’Connor, said the Irish team was quietly confident of success going into the final round:
“We spoke with Rodrigo about it last night, we thought the lights might work to our advantage, be a bit spooky and might catch out some horses. Our three stallions are all very brave and scopey, and the lights nearly helped them. We were quietly confident that we could do the business, and obviously Shane (Chaqui Z) had a really tough job going first… I was outside warming up when Denis (All Star) jumped clear and I thought – I have to match that now! I don’t even remember the round, it was all kind of a blur, but I do remember going through the finish!”
Ireland only once won the gold medal prior to Friday night, in 2001 at Arnhem in the Netherlands. The team of Kevin Babington (Carling King), Jessica Kürten (Bonita), Peter Charles (Corrada) and Dermott Lennon (Liscalgot) were crowned European Champions under Chef d’Équipe, the legendary Tommy Wade.
Prior to that Ireland claimed the team bronze medal in 1979, also in the Netherlands, but in Rotterdam this time, when Chef d’Équipe Colonel Billy Ringrose’s team of Gerry Mullins (Ballinderry), Captain Con Power (Rockbarton), John Roche (Maigh Cullin) and Eddie Macken (Boomerang) made the podium.
Irish riders are also in a strong position heading into Sunday’s individual final in Gothenburg. Shane Sweetnam and Chaqui Z are in the bronze medal position, just one place ahead of team mate Cian O’Connor in fourth, while Denis Lynch has also qualified for the final in 14th place.