Cian O'Connor.

Ireland and O'Connor finish second in Nations Cup

Howley and Swail bag five-star international victories

The Underwriting Exchange Irish Showjumping Team members finished gallant runners-up following a jump-off in the EEF Longines CSIO3* Nations Cup Region West qualifier at Roeser, Luxembourg this afternoon (Friday).

The Irish team of Max Wachman with the Irish Sport Horse Kilkenny, Michael Duffy with Clitschko 17, Tom Wachman with Cathalina S and Ireland stalwart Cian O’Connor with Fancy De Kergane, led by Michael Blake, were just pipped to the victory by an impressive Belgian team.

After a tense finish to the second round of jumping, which saw O’Connor hold his nerve to produce a double clear round on the nine-year-old and force the jump-off, two poles down on the Kildare athlete’s third effort of the afternoon meant Belgium could land the victory.

Horse Sport Ireland High Performance Show Jumping Director Blake said: “I suppose you could say that’s one that got away.

“The lads jumped great for the most part but one or two little mistakes have ultimately cost us. It is still an excellent result and, of course, congratulations to the Belgium team.

“When Tom and Cian, our final two riders, jumped their clears under pressure to apply pressure on the Belgians, they didn’t wilt to take us to the jump-off, where they got the job done.

“I am proud of the team. A Nations Cup runner-up finish is never to be sniffed at and it highlights the consistency we have in our programme.”

Tipperary’s Max Wachman and the Irish Sport Horse Kilkenny got the Irish team off to the perfect start for the afternoon with a flawless clear round. Owned by Susan Magnier and bred in Co. Kilkenny by Ita Brennan, the dashing grey was at his best to leave all poles standing to set Blake’s team up for the afternoon.

Mayo’s Michael G Duffy was next in the ring for the Irish on board another grey, Clitschko 17, and the combination was just as good with the 11-year-old owned by Carl Hanley Sporthorses GmBH not touching a pole for another clear round.

An unlucky pole down for Tom Wachman and Cathalina S, owned by Coolmore Showjumping, meant that O’Connor and the talented Fancy De Kergane, also owned by Coolmore Showjumping, needed a perfect round to keep Ireland on a zero score at the halfway point.

Jumping superbly, the Meath-based athlete guided his nine-year-old around the Roeser arena, showing why he is so highly regarded by Ireland’s most capped rider as the pair went easily clear to leave Blake’s team perfectly placed ahead of round two.

Double clear rounds were proving harder to come by after the break, as Max Wachman and Kilkenny (ISH) found out, with four faults the score for the older of the two brothers on the team on his second attempt and Duffy in next for the boys in the Charles Ancona green jackets.

Duffy kept his mount cool and calm throughout the round and looked to secure the first double clear of the competition – until the very last fence, where Clitschko 17 rubbed the top bar with his front leg to bring Ireland to a score of four, level with Belgium with just two combinations to jump.

The first of those was Tom Wachman and Cathalina S and the youngster delivered in spades to produce a crucial clear round to keep Ireland level with Belgium.

With the pressure well and truly on for O'Connor and Fancy De Kergane, the pair were unflappable - producing just the third double clear of the competition when Ireland needed it most to force a jump-off.

It wasn’t to be in the deciding third round but it was an impressive performance nonetheless from Blake’s men and guarantees Ireland a place in the semi-final in Deauville later this month.

Meanwhile, in Drammen, Norway, a disappointing second round put paid to the chances of the second Underwriting Exchange Irish Showjumping Team in EEF Longines CSIO3* Nations Cup action, with another jump-off deciding the verdict in Poland’s favour over the hosts.

Enniscrone native, Diarmuid Howley posted an outstanding double clear as the anchor for Taylor Vard’s squad, as Karlsson Horses’ Absolute du Mio relished the track and conditions.

Cork native Simon McCarthy on Rock Ridge Farms-owned Gotcha, and Cookstown’s Emily Turkington on Donald Loughran’s Cornet both had just four faults from their opening efforts and with Tipperary man, Thomas Ryan on Jezebeau BC, owned by H3k Equestrian, going clear before Howley’s first perfect run, Ireland were well in contention on just four faults.

Turkington suffered an unfortunate elimination however, while McCarthy had one jumping error and Ryan two, which following Howley’s second clear round, left Vard’s outfit on a total of 16 faults and sixth of the dozen participating countries.

There were two major triumphs for Irish riders to celebrate late last night (Thursday) however, as Richard Howley and Conor Swail claimed five-star glory.

Howley was the King of the French Riviera as he brought the curtain down on the opening day of the Longines Global Champions Tour of Cannes with a tremendous victory on board the magnificent and hugely exciting nine-year-old gelding Petitfour vd Wareslage.

It was late into the night when Howley, from Enniscrone, Co Sligo, entered the arena for the 1.45m speed class, with Ben Maher (GBR) in the lead on Ginger-Blue. Maher had gone clear in 57.83 seconds and 33 combinations had failed to better that time.

That was until Howley and his talented partner, owned by HK Horses, world famous jockey Oisín Murphy and Sarah Borthwick, trotted onto the stage.

In a fantastic illustration of symbiotic coordination, the duo blitzed from start to finish while maintaining deadly accuracy over the obstacles craftily put together by Uliano Vezzani, shaving just over a tenth of a second off Maher's time, posting 57.70 to take the spoils.

“I planned on the round, but heading in to beat Ben always adds the pressure,” said Howley. “Obviously he is a world class rider, so it’s an honour to take the win over him today.”

Conor Swail got in on the five-star act too with his recent winner Gamble, the pair combining once more to stellar effect when victorious at Spruce Meadows late last night Irish time.

The Down native and his 13-year-old gelding beat off a staggering 95 other contestants in the 1.45m speed class, galloping around the pristine All Canada Ring clear and in a time of 64.28 seconds.

Swail and Gamble were just the 26th combination into the arena, so they had a long time to sweat but such was the calibre of their round that none of the high-class combatants following could improve upon it.

McKayla Langmeier (USA) did get close, falling just short of besting Swail's time as Chadina clocked 64.49, to be second. Cassio Rivetti (BRA) and Chaggall de Toscane finished third.