Team Ireland wins Wellington Nations Cup Showjumping for the third time

Updated: March 7, 2017
FEI Nations Cup 2017, Wellington, Florida

For the third time in history and the second year in-a-row, Ireland has won the Wellington Nations Cup in Florida, USA, after a commanding performance defeating teams from Britain, Canada, USA, Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela.

A magnificent team display from Shane Sweetnam, Paul O’Shea, Conor Swail and Cian O’Connor, saw Ireland, under the guidance of Team Manager Michael Blake, win for the second time in two weeks on American soil after they had also came out on top in the Ocala Nations Cup a fortnight earlier.

Ireland finished round one tied for first place with Brazil on a score of zero. They then completed round two with four faults to take the win. Brazil moved into third place with 16 faults in round two. USA carried five faults from round one, and added eight in round two to settle for second place on a 13-point total, while Brazil took third spot on the podium, with Venezuela fourth, Britain fifth and Canada sixth of eight teams that took part.

First to go in the opening round, Cork’s Shane Sweetnam and Chaqui Z jumped clear with just one time fault. Limerick man Paul O’Shea (Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu), Co. Down’s Conor Swail (Rubens LS La Silla) and Meath-based Cian O’Connor (Seringat) then all jumped clear, to leave tied for the lead with Brazil after the first round on a zero score. At that stage it already looked a three-way battle, with the USA on five faults the only other nation within touching distance of Ireland and Brazil.

The second round saw Sweetnam and Chaqui Z come home with just four faults, before O’Shea completed a superb double clear performance, Conor Swail and Rubens LS La Silla then finished with one fence down, and as the final line riders prepared to enter the arena, Ireland, Brazil and USA all still had a chance of victory.

An eight fault score from America’s last rider Georgina Bloomberg ended their chances of a home win, before Cian O’Connor entered the ring as last to go for the Irish with Seringat. Just as he did in Ocala a few weeks before, O’Connor kept his cool to complete his double clear performance and leave Ireland on an unbeatable total of just four faults. Brazilian Eduardo Menzes lowered two poles with Quintol when last to jump, dropping them below the Americans and into third.

Speaking afterwards, a delighted Irish Team Manager Michael Blake said:

“I am a very proud Irishman. I am absolutely delighted,” said Blake, who also led the team to victory in Ocala two weeks ago. “We came here to win, and we went to Ocala to win. It is very easy to win with these guys because they are really good. Basically, if you have a bit of a plan and tell them in time where they are going, they are going to turn up. That is what they did on both occasions. People asked why I changed the winning team from Ocala (switching out Kevin Babington and Richie Moloney). I changed because I was looking at Paul and Conor, and I think their form is fantastic. I did not think they were quite ready in time for Ocala, but I knew they would be ready now, and they were fantastic.”

It was Shane Sweetnam’s tenth straight year competing on the Irish team in Nations’ Cup at Wellington, and he spoke of Blake’s strategy for the team.

“Michael made a good plan and talked to all of the riders that were here in Wellington. Obviously Cian and I were lucky enough to be on both teams that won, but Kevin and Richie were also here in the practice ring tonight helping out. The team spirit is fantastic. I have to give it to Michael; it is just amazing.”

O’Shea, who jumped a double clear on Machu Picchu, a ten-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, was happy with his first time on the team in Wellington.

“Nothing really fazes him, so I was not worried. He has such a good mind. He is a very straightforward horse, very easy, and very adjustable.”

Swail put in a faultless first round and dropped one rail in round two with the 11-year-old Mexican Sport Horse stallion Rubens LS La Silla. The Co. Down-native remarked afterwards: “The horse jumped very well tonight. He is a new horse to me this year. He is a wonderful horse, and a great prospect for the future, and for the Irish team. Ireland has won here now three times, and thankfully I have been on all three teams. It has been a good record for me. We all mucked in, and dug in the trenches there, and I think we all did a great job tonight.”

Olympic medallist O’Connor anchored his team with double clear rounds for the second Nations’ Cup in-a-row with Seringat, an 11-year-old Selle Francais gelding:

“He had a rest since Ocala. Obviously it is a very different atmosphere here. Ocala was very warm, and it was during the day. I found this a little bit harder because the horse was lit up and on his toes, especially coming down the last line. I had to use all my strength to pull him off the combination, but he is very careful. He knows where his legs are, and he knows to get them out of the way, so I am very happy. It is great to win, and it was a fantastic team effort.”

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