Thrills and spills as Aga Khan comes home
Already a world star, Bertram Allen is now a household name
Published 08/08/2015 | 02:30
There were thrills, there were splashy spills and there was triumph - it was the most exciting Nations Cup in many moons as Ireland romped home to a victorious finish.
Tricolours fluttered and the rafters were lifted as the Irish show-jumping team raised their hats to the crowd.
And the national anthem sounded before the skittish horses calmed themselves enough to sedately canter around the arena in a lap of honour, then breaking into a gallop of sheer glee that was a delight to watch.
For Cian O'Connor, his 100th cap for Ireland could scarcely have been sweeter as he held the Aga Khan trophy aloft with a beaming smile on his face.
But he was quick to acknowledge the work of his three team mates, Greg Broderick, Darragh Kenny and 20-year-old wonder-kid Bertram Allen - who is ranked number five in the world.
"My job is always easy when you ride with guys like these," said O'Connor.
Allen said that while he had jumped all over the world, to win in Dublin was a "dream come true". And just to watch his face, wearing an expression of sheer awe as he galloped around the arena - dropping his helmet somewhere along the way - it was clear this was true.
Already a world superstar, he is also about to become a household name.
The Irish riders don't get to compete much in Ireland during the year, so to sample the heady glory of winning on home turf before a capacity crowd was all the more momentous as they continue on the road to Rio.
In a tribute to the unique feel-good atmosphere of the Discover Ireland Dublin Horse Show, Darragh Kenny afterwards said he wanted to clear the fences in the second round so that he could hear "that roar" again - just as the home crowd treated him to another one for good measure.
In no other arena is the deep, abiding, age-old Irish love for the horse more palpable than here. It even stretched to heartfelt groans and clicks of grave sympathy invoked as competing riders knocked fences and clocked up the faults.
This crowd didn't want anybody to lose. But we wanted to win all the same.
Entering the ring for the opening ceremonial laps, and in an impressive show of multitasking, Spanish rider Alvarez Moya was noted to have taken a 'selfie'.
Despite his tender years, the weight of Ireland's hopes rested on Bertram Allen's slight shoulders when he was the first rider to kick off the competition.
There was a poignant sweetness about the fact that the Wexford rider was aboard a horse that was practically the same age in years - the 17-year-old stallion Romanov.
But together, they made a solid, plucky and most determined team and a hush of respect fell as they navigated the tough course with little difficulty, clocking up just four faults as a single post fell at the 'telephone boxes' jump.
Riding for Team USA was Georgina Bloomberg - daughter of the former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, rumoured to be about to run for president. There was no sign of her father yesterday as she cleared the fences in the first round.
"One more clear and we have our hands on the cup," Greg Broderick accurately predicted during the interval.
Sure enough, Ireland's elegant perfection continued into the second round - just as it all started to fall apart, disastrously, for everyone else and poles started flying.
But nobody had a worse time of it than Charlie Jayne who was unceremoniously chucked into the water at the iconic red jump that is one of the emblems most associated with the Dublin Horse Show.
The US rider will never see it again without wincing after his horse, Valeska, suddenly pulled up short and unseated him, thoroughly soaking him. The same jump was also the nemesis of Swiss rider Steve Guerdat after his horse, Corbinian, suddenly turned skittish and twice refused it.
By the end, an Irish victory seemed inevitable.
And enjoying every moment viscerally was Eddie Macken. The showjumping legend - who represented Ireland 27 times in the Nations Cup and now lives in Canada, said: "I know what Friday in Dublin is all about."