MANY things in life do not go to plan, but you pick yourself up, move on and try again. It is probably fair to say the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games was the most anticipated Games of all time, having been postponed for a year due to Covid-19.
Then the ‘will they, won’t they happen’ question was in everyone’s minds’ but they eventually got underway in Japan and what a spectacle it was, even if it didn’t go Ireland’s way in the team show jumping. Then we had EHV-1 early in the year which put a temporary halt to the international show jumping circuit in mainland Europe.
Once again, the Dublin Horse Show went by the wayside due to the pandemic, and it remains to be seen what effect Brexit will have on competitors travelling from mainland Europe will have. Two other rounds of the Longines FEI Division 1 Nations Cup series were also cancelled – in Falsterbo and Hickstead – but the final in Barcelona did go ahead and Ireland came very close, while a young Irish team held their own at the rescheduled FEI European Championships in Riesenbeck in September.
Nations Cup competitions
Michael Blake’s senior team competed in 18 Nations Cups in the 2021 season and won three of those. The first came in July in Peelbergen, The Netherlands, when the team of Eoin Gallagher, Alexander Butler, David Simpson and Eoin McMahon won comprehensively on an excellent score of zero.
It was a team debut for Gallagher (Faltic HB) who produced a perfect double clear, as did both Butler (Athene) and McMahon (Chakra 9).
The Irish team of Eoin Gallagher, Alexander Butler, Michael Blake (team manager), David Simpson and Eoin McMahon who claimed victory in the Longines EEF Nations Cup at Peelbergen
In fact, both the winning teams in Drammen and Vilamoura also had debutants. In Drammen, youngsters Harry Allen (20) and Max Wachman (17) had dream debuts when helping Ireland win at the venue for an incredible third year in-a-row. They were joined by the experienced duo of Comdt Geoff Curran (Glengara Wood) and former Army captain Shane Carey (Skorphults Baloutendro).
Allen was one of seven double clears in the whole competition with Guinness, who went on to win a team silver medal at the Young Rider European Championships, while Wachman was clear in the second round with Dorette.
The third and final win of the season came just last month in Vilamoura, Portugal, where the team of Anthony Condon (SFS Vincomte), Jack Ryan, Shane Breen (Lady Star Van Dorperheide) and Trevor Breen (Highland President) won from 17 teams. It was a senior debut for Ryan, who was also on that young rider medal-winning team. He rode the home-bred BBS McGregor and was clear in the second round. Trevor Breen was one of five double clears in the competition.
Trevor Breen, Shane Breen, Michael Blake (team manager), Jack Ryan and Anthony Condon stand on top of the podium after victory in the Vilamoura Nations Cup \ Vilamoura Equestrian Centre
Ireland fielded a team at three of the four Division 1 Nations Cups. The first of those big competitions in La Baule saw the eventual Tokyo squad line out and, despite being in the lead at half-time after four clear rounds, four faults apiece in round two meant they ultimately finished fifth.
In Sopot, the team of Paul O’Shea, Daniel Coyle, Alexander Butler and Eoin McMahon finished third on the podium after a plethora of clears in the first round. At the final cup before the Tokyo Olympic Games, Shane Sweetnam, Bertram Allen, Michael G. Duffy and Eoin McMahon finished fifth in Rotterdam. McMahon produced a perfect double clear with Chacon 2 which was later rewarded with a championship call up for the Europeans.
There was a thrilling end at the FEI Nations Cup final when Darragh Kenny, Denis Lynch, Eoin McMahon and Michael Duffy finished with just one time fault and in second place on the podium behind The Netherlands.
Eyes on World Championships
Summing up the year, Michael Blake told The Irish Field: “We had a good year overall. Obviously we had some disappointment, especially in Tokyo where we fell afoul of the system and luck didn’t go our way especially after such a great start.
“We sent a primarily a team of younger riders to the European Championships who were all riding at a championship for the first time. We also had three younger riders at Barcelona who went through the bursary system.
“I am delighted with younger riders that made teams this year and on winning teams. It is great to see so many younger riders coming through and performing so well. We are looking forward to a good year in 2022 with the World Championships being our main target.”
He thanked those who made fielding top class teams possible. “Once again we are totally indebted to our owners who support our riders and Team Ireland, our team sponsors and all behind the scenes at Horse Sport Ireland who make this possible. We are very fortunate to have such an extensive pool of committed professional riders available for our teams,” Blake added.
18 - Nations Cup in 2021
8 - podium finishes
3 - wins in Peelbergen, Drammen and Vilamoura
13 - Conor Swail’s world rankings, Ireland’s highest ranked rider