Thursday 29 September 2016

Irish Aga Khan team is one of the best ever, says Cian

Louise Parkes

Published 21/07/2016 | 02:30

Cian O'Connor: 'The team we have here is possibly one of the best Ireland has ever had' Photo: Brian Lawless / Sportsfile
Cian O'Connor: 'The team we have here is possibly one of the best Ireland has ever had' Photo: Brian Lawless / Sportsfile

Olympic bronze medallist Cian O'Connor was gung-ho about Ireland's chances of winning the coveted Aga Khan Cup for the second year in a row after topping the opening competition, the Avery Crest Speed Stakes.

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His squadmates, Bertram Allen and Greg Broderick, lined up behind him in second and third places and Darragh Kenny finished fifth.

And Billy Twomey, who is not in contention for a team spot, ensured it was a total Irish whitewash by slotting into fourth.

"The team we have here is possibly one of the best Ireland has ever had. Everyone remembers the great three-in-a-row side of the 1970s, but even some of those guys say that this is the best team ever, and that we have a good chance of making it three in a row too," O'Connor said.

He was referring to the legendary foursome of Eddie Macken, the late Paul Darragh, James Kernan and Capt Con Power who proved unbeatable on the hallowed RDS turf from 1977 to 1979.

Ireland will certainly start favourites in Friday's team competition, which is a leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup series. With just two legs left to run, and a big win behind them at St Gallen in Switzerland last month, the Irish look set to qualify for the final in Barcelona in September, which has a €2m prize fund.

However, eight nations will battle it out for the 2016 Aga Khan title - and Italy's Lorenzo de Luca said the hosts may not have it all their own way.

"We need points badly," he said of the Italian side who are in danger of relegation to the Nations Cup second division if they don't pull their socks up this week in Dublin and next week in Hickstead in England.

De Luca won yesterday's big class of the day, the Sport Ireland Classic. His winning 10-year-old grey gelding, Limestone Grey, is Irish-bred.

"He was bought by my boss at Stephex Stables in Belgium during the Young Horse Championships in Lanaken three years ago, but I only started riding him last September," he said.

"He's a very special horse, full of energy but really careful," explained the 28-year-old Italian who pinned Brazil's Marlon Zanotelli into second and Britain's Ben Maher into third.

Irish Independent

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