Equestrian: Irish hopes pinned on Twomey after show jumping team's exit
There was an air of deep disappointment in the Irish camp in Kentucky yesterday after Tuesday's disastrous exit from the team show jumping competition at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
The eventing team's failure to achieve qualification for the 2012 Olympic Games through a top-five finish didn't hurt quite so much. They went with more hope than expectation and it was a heroic effort from start to finish despite, once again, some weak performances in the opening dressage phase.
The loss of Patricia Ryan's horse Fernhill Clover Mist, which suffered a serious tendon injury while galloping between fences on the cross-country course, was a colossal blow. But the courage and skill shown by 24-year-old Carlow rider Sam Watson, who produced a storming round from Horseware Bushman, and Capt Geoff Curran, who had to endure an agonising 26-minute hold on course with The Jump Jet due to a fall for a previous rider, sent them into the final day of show jumping full of optimism.
The Rolex Stadium at the Horse Park in Kentucky has not been a happy hunting ground for Irish teams this week, however. The eventing dream was blown apart when Watson and Curran racked up big scores, and then on Tuesday the jumpers suffered a similar fate.
They came in as quiet favourites for a medal -- it was the same team that blew away the opposition when winning the prestigious Nations Cup in Aachen, Germany, in July.
Billy Twomey was superb and went into yesterday's late-night third individual qualifier, and Cian O'Connor's four-fault effort left him just two places further down the individual rankings so well within a top-30 slot for tomorrow's penultimate competition. But while some explanation could be found for Dermott Lennon's 13-fault tally with the inexperienced Hallmark Elite, there were few who could understand Denis Lynch's three-fence disaster with Lantinus.
A clear or even four faults from the Tipperary man, now ranked world No 6 and riding one of the best horses on the international circuit, would have left Ireland well within the top 10 nations that battled it out for the team medals last night.
But Lantinus mowed down three fences on the final run and destroyed Irish chances.
Yesterday, Lynch admitted: "It's very simple, I had a job to do and I didn't do it -- I'm very disappointed, I let the team down."
He said the horse was tense after crashing through the wall in opening competition on Monday and he brought Lantinus out to jump a foot-perfect round yesterday afternoon, but it was all too late.
Horse Sport Ireland's (HSI) Chief Executive Damian MacDonald insisted yesterday that the overall cost of the WEG campaign was a modest €300,000.
"We set a very public target which was to qualify two teams for the Olympic Games so I'm very disappointed," he said. "We kept costs down with the help of Castleton Lyons and Ashford Studs, who provided us with accommodation, but we need to sit down and learn from this. We will have debriefing sessions when we get back home."
Irish hopes are now pinned on Twomey, one of the most elegant and sympathetic riders in the world.
If he can hold his mare together and qualify for Saturday's top-four final then the rest had better look out because the exchange of horses in that final leg holds no fear for him. Tinka's Serenade is, on the other hand, "a bit of a chestnut mare" according to the Corkman -- in other words not the easiest horse in the world.
She may prove a challenge to the other three riders if he can get to that stage, as that is when his incredible horsemanship skills will really come into their own.