On a mission to boost nation's horse power
Greg Broderick's work giving Ireland Olympic dreams again, writes Daragh Ó Conchuir
Horses and hurling. The two most common pastimes in Inch, a tiny townland just outside Thurles.
Right now, much of the talk centres on Seamus Callanan and James Woodlock, key members of the Tipperary panel preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final against Galway.
The pair are by no means hogging the limelight though, as Greg Broderick is preparing for the Aga Khan Cup at the RDS on Friday and the European Championships in Aachen the following week.
Broderick gave up a promising career at underage level with Drom and Inch to focus on showjumping but remains a keen supporter. His father, Austin was club chairman until the end of last year. The connections run deep.
Broderick shared a classroom with Woodlock and they were regular hunting partners. Callanan is a couple of years younger but he participated in the same Sunday rituals when there wasn't a match.
Hurling and horses. Interwoven in a neat encapsulation of rural Irish society.
The fact that Greg is holding his own as a topic of conversation at this time of year, tells you all you need to know about his eminence.
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Broderick recalls the hair standing on the back of his neck as he helped his mentor Shane Breen at the Aga Khan Cup a decade ago and dreamed of being there.
Friday will be his debut in the Dublin Nations' Cup, the continuation of a whirlwind campaign that began last September with his first Nations' Cup in Arezzo with the appropriately-monikered MHS Going Global. This was a second-tier event, the type which Ireland manager, Robert Splaine deploys expertly for blooding up-and-coming combinations.
Junior, as he is known at Broderick's Ballypatrick Stables, took the task with ease, jumping a clear and one four-faulter. Since then, every question asked has been answered to the immense satisfaction of everyone.
The Ita Brennan-bred Irish Sport Horse spent a couple of months campaigning in California in spring and was clear in five out of six Grands Prix.
Splaine had seen enough and called the duo up for their first top level Nations' Cup in Lummen. It was like they were born for the big stage and subsequent performances in La Baule and St Gallen, where they produced a double clear, have confirmed the promise.
The organisers of the Global Champions Tour offered Broderick a wild card for the Estoril leg of the prestigious event a fortnight ago and he repaid them with three clear rounds to finish third.
Going Global is a relative baby in showjumping terms as a nine-year-old. Showjumpers tend not to hit their peak until 11 or 12 but Billy Twomey's success in a speed class at the five-star show in Dinard on Friday with 18-year-old mare Tinka's Serenade illustrates their endurance.
So Broderick has ensured that the introduction to the top flight has been gentle.
"I knew how important the Europeans are this year to get Olympic qualification. There were bigger days to come in the year and I wanted to leave as much diesel in the tank as possible."
It is new territory for the rider too but his laid-back temperament is well suited to this rarefied atmosphere.
There is more to it than that though. Those not immersed in the game might think he is an overnight sensation but that couldn't be further from the truth. This partnership alone is a long time in the making.
"My horse is actually so good and his rideability is perfection. We're a team ourselves now for four years so we know each other very well. I would say that I have found the step up quite easy. I don't think that it's been anything so difficult but I put a lot of that down to how talented my horse is.
"At five-star international level maybe I don't have the most experience but I've ridden probably as many horses as anybody on the circuit, going to places with 14 and 16 horses every week. I've ridden all sorts of different horses."
Broderick may be new to the international scene but he is widely experienced domestically, having farmed many of the national championships over the years. His RDS record is excellent - apart from breaking a foot there a few years ago.
He has garnered the 6yo championship in four out of the last five renewals and 12 months ago became the first rider ever to bag all the young horse classes at 4, 5 and 6yo. That doesn't happen by accident.
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You can be the most gifted rider ever born but you need the conveyance. The majority of Irish riders competing on the international circuit base themselves on the continent or in America and rely on patrons to provide world-class potential.
Broderick spent some time in Europe but the country boy likes his home comforts, not least hunting and hurling. He decided to develop his own operation.
The business model centres on breeding and buying young horses, developing them, and selling them on. It takes considerable pragmatism to let a potential superstar go. Broderick won the five-year-old category of the world breeding championships on Arraghbeg Clover two years ago and sold the horse.
Only two Irish Sport Horses have jumped double clears in Nations' Cups this year. Going Global is one. The other, Javas Keltic Mist, was sold by Broderick to former army rider Brian Curran-Cournane last summer. You've got to pay the bills.
"Once you sell a horse the most important thing is that they're lucky for their new owner and then that brings back more business. You would never be jealous."
His sister, Cheryl, oversees the breeding side of the operation, with Ballypatrick producing 20 foals every year. They are kept at the farm until they're three and sold from that stage on.
There are 35 horses ridden out on a daily basis so none of it would be possible without a strong support system, particularly now that Broderick is away more on international duty. Ashleigh Skillen is Going Global's devoted groom, while Ethan Ahern works the young horses and will compete with five of them this week. Matthew Calderwood is another key cog.
As Broderick has shown in his handling of Going Global, he is patient. As well as improving his amenities, he has built a crop of loyal owners, amongst them Dr Noel Cawley, Jim Burke and the American Mary Ellen De Ruchi, owner of a seven-year-old named Duco that Broderick has very high hopes for.
Then there's the Canadian couple, Lee and Paul Kruger of Caledonia Stables, whose decision to leave Going Global with Broderick after purchasing him as a five-year-old has been the game-changer.
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Now the dream is real. Not just for Broderick but for Ireland. The major championships have not been kind in recent years, with Cian O'Connor's Olympic bronze medal in 2012 the shining light.
O'Connor lost gold after Waterford Crystal tested positive for a banned substance eight years before that though and in 2008, Denis Lynch had to withdraw when Lantinus fell foul of the regulations.
Thankfully, there have been no further issues since. The subsequent failures have surrounded an inability to qualify teams to the last two Games but there is a new depth in rider and horse. The brand is positive again, which is why Horse Sport Ireland has managed to attract the support of Investec, sponsor of the Epsom Derby and Oaks, as well as the Rugby Championship.
Now the results must come. The Aga Khan is big. The Europeans as a standalone event are huge but it is as a qualifier to the Rio Olympics that the Irish are focusing on Aachen. "It's important for us, as a nation with such good riders and such good horses. Not to have a team there would be devastating.
"We have great horses. We have fantastic riders. Bertram Allen is a world superstar despite his age. Not only is he a brilliant rider, he's modest and such a nice person. He's going to be at the top of the sport for many years.
"You have Cian O'Connor with a nine-year-old (Good Luck) that looks world class. You have Conor Swail with a new horse (Grand Cru VD Vijf Eiken) that jumped two clear rounds at Mannheim bar a time fault. He's just a nine-year-old and obviously Conor is a world-class rider. And my horse is just a nine-year-old.
"With the horse power that we have and the riders we have, if we can qualify for the Olympics and keep the horses and riders together, we can go with a realistic chance of knocking on the door for a medal."
Sunday Indo Sport