The final stage of the first European division of the FEI Longines Nations Cup circuit took place in Dublin this afternoon. The stakes were high for the home team as Barcelona qualified for the final. Finally, in capricious weather, Ireland triumphed after a play-off against a French side determined to end their season in style after a disappointing World Championship. An unhappy Switzerland completed the podium in Herning.
It had been three years since a Nations Cup had been held in Ireland, and 2020 and 2021 were canceled by the CSIO. The public was present for this big comeback, which was in front of the stands and the couple represented seven countries. The Longines FEI Nations Cup Division 1 takes part in this final leg of the circuit set. , opening the event with Queensland E, American Lily Keenan scored twelve points.
Marc DeLazar and Arioto Du Gevres had to wait until they entered the track with bib number five to see the first clear round appear, followed closely by Count Me In on Irishman Conor Swail. With Max Wachman missing four points in the Berlux Z, his team-mates Shane Sweetnam and Cian O’Connor, linked to James Can Cruz and Kilkenny, left all the bars in their cleats. At the end of the first quarter, to the delight of the public who largely supported the national team, only Ireland showed a clean score, closely followed by France and Switzerland with four points each.
Many were stuck on Alan Wade’s delicate course, which included a double at the end of the course, preceded by a wall, of which Megane Moisonnier and Cordiel were victims. A particular difficulty was underlined by his team-mates Mark DeLazar and Edward Levy going penalty-free in the first part of the race. Kevin Stout and Visconti du Telman, if they didn’t touch a bar, unfortunately left a foot in the Bay River.
“The luck of the Irish” is not a myth
So the suspense was high at the start of the second round, with just one bar separating the top three teams. The pressure mounted and the pair appeared to have learned from their mistakes in the opening round, improving their first set score and going from clear to clear, like Lily Keenan, Lars Kersten, Harry Smulders or Victoria Gulliksen. As Alan Wade said earlier this week, “A couple can make three or four mistakes in the first round, prepare well for the second and come out clear, and all is not lost after the first round, which makes the event even more exciting!”
However, this was the best score achieved by the Tricolors who did not add any points to their counter. So the pressure was on the Irish, especially after four points from Max Watchman and Shane Sweetnam, who kept the Emerald Isle’s representatives level with the French before their last rider departed. Unfortunately for the Swiss, double clear rounds by Martin Fuchs and Steve Guerdat in Connor Jay and Dynamics de Belhem allowed them to “only” climb onto the third step of the podium, with Eduard Schmitz and Niklaus Rutschi once again missing out.
Cian O’Connor, one “Stress not enough”, as the head of the Irish team Michael Blake told a press conference, the last to start, signed a course without penalty, allowing Ireland to face France in a dam. Left out of the first rotation and known for their pace, Mark DeLaser and Conor Swail, the first names to have already promised success to France in the play-offs at the Hickstead Nations Cup at the end of July, were naturally assigned to this last. Stopwatch Run. Mark DeLazar recognized the first to leave “Clean and very fast course”, as described by his Irish counterpart. However, it was not enough and the Frenchman was unable to repeat his performance at Hickstead. Conor Swail eventually crossed the finish line by more than a second (30”31 vs. 31”81) after a flurry of noise exiting the track, handing Ireland their first home win since 2015.
A win that meant a lot to the Irish: “We have won many cups but the Aga Khan is a whole different dimension”Michael Blake, supported by Max Watchman, who was only eighteen years old, said: “I’ve been dreaming of this moment since I was ten!”. A dream shared by Shane Sweetnam who is yet to make it in the first attempt “This is my fourth Aga Khan and it has always been a dream to win it.” And Connor Swail to add, “It’s every Irish rider’s goal to win this cup”.
France is second in Dublin, but first after the general classification
The 2022 Longines FEI Nations Cup circuit ended with a regional victory, allowing Ireland to not only jump from seventh and last place in the general classification to fourth, but also to qualify for the Barcelona final. France, crowned with victory, took three second places in Hickstedt, Rotterdam, Sopot and Dublin.
Unfortunately for Norway, the matches will be difficult as they finished last. However, it is not alone at the back of the pack, as another nation is tied with it. Not least because Sweden was crowned Olympic team champion in Tokyo in 2021 and last week in Herning at the World Championships. However, the U.S. won the title in Tryon in 2018. The Swedes won’t be the only world champions without after failing to qualify on their home circuit. Two major absences in the finals from September 29 to October 2.
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