Belfast Telegraph

Chief Mullins is fired up as Irish earn chance to reach Olympics

Cian O'Connor
Cian O'Connor

By Ruth Loney

Ireland's Showjumping Nations Cup team have clinched a vital top-eight slot for Sunday's Grand Final of the Longines FEI Nations Cup in Barcelona, which gives them a real chance of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.

The four riders - Cian O'Connor, Darragh Kenny, Paul O'Shea and Peter Maloney - finished fifth of 18 teams in yesterday's opening round.

Now Tokyo is within their grasp if they can overhaul Colombia and Italy, with the remaining eight teams starting once again on zero points.

High Performance chairman Gerry Mullins said: "I'm looking forward to the battle on Sunday, we are happy to be qualified for the next round but we need to beat Colombia and Italy to get that Olympic ticket.

"Peter Maloney and Chianti's Champion were unlucky to have a fence down in the middle of the combination. Cian's horse PSG Final was a little bit green near the end, but he will learn. Darragh and Paul both gave their best, but Sunday is the ultimate test."

Sunday's Nations Cup final at the beautiful Real Club de Polo de Barcelona is the perfect backdrop for the show.

Michael Blake, Horsesport Ireland Development Team Manager, said: "The riders had a tough call, they made the top eight and we are going into Sunday to give it our best shot. To make the top eight from 18 top teams is fantastic, it is pressure all round to get that last precious place to Tokyo."

It was an emotional day for the Irish riders, who wore orange armbands in tribute to their colleague Kevin Babington, who suffered life-changing injuries following an accident while competing at a show in the US.

Blake explained: "We are thinking of Kevin at this time. The armbands can now be bought online by every rider who is competing at a show.

"If they win a class, they can then donate their prize money to the Babington fund for Kevin's expensive rehabilitation."

Belgium won the opening day of competition with a total of four penalties ahead of runners-up France on five, with Sweden and Colombia sharing third on nine points.

Ireland occupied fifth with 10 penalties and Germany sixth with 12.

Switzerland and Italy make up the final two of the eight teams in Sunday's Grand Final, which kicks off at 3pm Spanish time (2pm GMT).

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