Fantastic Irish Show Jumping team win five-star Longines League Of Nations in Florida

The victorious Irish team of Darragh Kenny, Daniel Coyle, Michael Blake (team manager) Cian O’Connor and Shane Sweetnam following the Longines League Of Nations in Ocala, Florida

The Irish Show Jumping team scored a brilliant victory in the early hours of this morning (Sunday) at the five-star Longines League Of Nations at Ocala, Florida in the USA. Ireland had finished as runners-up in the opening round of the series last month in Abu Dhabi (UAE) and they went one better in Ocala beating a top-class field of the best horses and riders in the world.

The competition began with a flurry of clear rounds from the opening riders and among those was Offaly’s Darragh Kenny who was foot-perfect with Amsterdam 27, owned by Vlock Show Stables. Cork’s Shane Sweetnam was second to go for Michael Blake’s team, and he delivered another clear with Otis Blue, and Ireland at that stage were one of three teams with clear rounds from their first two riders. In-form Derry rider Daniel Coyle was next to go with the Ariel Grange-owned mare Legacy, and once again he jumped clear, with Ireland the only team to have three clear rounds from their first three riders. Ireland’s anchor rider Cian O’Connor decided not to jump his gelding Maurice in the opening round with Ireland already assured of a zero score heading into round two. The Netherlands and the home team USA were also on a clear scorecard heading into the decider, while Great Britain and Sweden were the two teams to finish outside the top eight and would miss out on the round two action.

The new Longines League Of Nations format sees only three combinations for each team jump in the second round and Irish team manager Michael Blake decided to leave out Shane Sweetnam for the second round and bring in the fresh pairing of Cian O’Connor and Maurice.

With all scores to count in the second round, the tension went up a level and Darragh Kenny kept Ireland in touch with a four fault score second time out with Amsterdam 27. The USA went into the outright lead with a clear from Laura Kraut while The Netherlands, who had been sharing the lead, dropped right down the leaderboard after a 12 fault score from William Greve. Daniel Coyle and Legacy gave Ireland a huge boost when they completed a double clear round and when the USA’s second rider, Kent Farrington picked up 8 faults, Ireland were in the outright lead.
Anchor rider Cian O’Connor knew a clear round would give Ireland victory and once again Ireland’s most experienced Nations cup competitor delivered the goods under pressure, crossing the line with just a time fault to give Ireland victory on a five fault final score. Switzerland took runner-up spot after a flawless second round saw the finish on 8 faults, while the home team from the USA took third place on the podium with a 12 fault total.

A delighted Irish team manager Michael Blake said:

“I’m really, really happy. We have been second eight times recently but we have broken our hoodoo today and we have managed to get the win. I’m so proud of these guys, they knew what to do and they did it – they are just amazing guys and I am so honoured to work with them.”

Cian O’Connor paid tribute to his fellow team mates and spoke glowingly about his 12-year-old gelding Maurice:

“He is a great horse (Maurice). He jumped really well in Wellington (FL) under the lights in the last Grand Prix where we were second to Darragh (Kenny) so I was confident. I suppose my job was easy as the guys had the hard work done and I could just bring it home. I asked the advice going in the gate and Daniel said just to get the job done, so I am very proud to be part of it and to be able to finish it for the lads.”

Irish Horse Board Director General Alison Corbally added:

“Many congratulations to Michael Blake and his Irish team of Darragh Kenny, Shane Sweetnam, Daniel Coyle and Cian O’Connor on a brilliant performance to win the Ocala leg of the Longines League Of Nations. Ireland came very close to victory in the first leg of this new series in Abu Dhabi last month and they showed their class in Ocala with another top performance which now puts them in a very strong position on the league table.”

The next round of the Longines League Of Nations will take place at St Gallen in Switzerland on May 31st, where Ireland will be hoping for another good result as they bid to qualify for Septembers final in Barcelona (ESP).