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Friday 15 December 2017

Ireland's Paralympic equestrian team ready to ride into history books in london

THIS past weekend in Hartpury proved a busy one for the recently-named Paralympic team of Eilish Byrne (Youri) (right), James Dwyer (Orlando), Helen Kearney (Mister Cool) and Gerry Savage (Blues Tip Top Too), as they began their preparations ahead of their London debut.

Just over a week ago, the quartet were unveiled as Ireland's first equestrian team to line out at a Paralympic Games.

There were, perhaps, some raised eyebrows at the choice of the selectors, but chef d'equipe Dara Kearney had to closely examine recent results and look at the bigger picture.

She said: "Obviously, it is very disappointing for the riders who did not make the team and it was a very close call with some riders missing out very narrowly.

"On behalf of the whole squad, I'd like to thank everyone who supported us on our journey to this milestone."

Just 12 months ago at Hartpury, Ireland were the team everyone was talking about, with a second-place finish kicking off a tremendous few months.

This was underlined in September, when history was made as Helen won Ireland's first ever medal, a bronze, at the European Championships in Moorsele, Belgium. Another win followed for the rider in March, 2012, in Deauville, France.

As a Grade 1a rider, Helen is categorised as 'most disabled', but she is incredibly determined and the 23-year-old's maturity belies her years.

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Now, the Dunlavin resident will aim to go one further and return home with a Paralympic accolade to add to the bronze medal earned last autumn with former event horse Mister Cool.

Fellow team member Eilish brings great experience to the table as a veteran of Olympic, World and European championships.

She represented Ireland in Hong Kong and placed a credit-able second on the first day.

Two years later, she was forced to withdraw from the 2010 World Equestrian Games when her horse picked up an injury, but her place was taken by the capable James Dwyer (below), who is also in the London team.

A native of Mooncoin, Co Kilkenny, Dwyer, 42, had a fantastic week in Kentucky to finish fifth in what proved to be a tough Grade IV competition, won by Britain's Sophie Wells.

James has been on a roll since August 2010, achieving success after success on his own gelding Orlando, with a treble in New York last September being mirrored, twice, in Florida in January.

Over two weekends, James won six classes to emerge as the leading rider, and headed to Europe full of confidence, subsequently securing a place on the Irish team.

In Deauville, he was joined by Gerry (right), who finished third behind Helen in the Grade 1a team test.

A month later in Moorsele, she continued this good form with second place on her Irish Draught cross Blues Tip Top Too.

Having claimed their fourth consecutive Paralympic team gold medal in Hong Kong in 2008, the British side will be the ones to beat on home turf in London at the end of the month,

However, our talented Irish quartet will not go unnoticed. The team: Eilish Byrne (Grade II), Youri; Gerry Savage (Grade 1a), Blues Tip Top Too; Helen Kearney (Grade 1a), Mister Cool; James Dwyer (Grade IV), Orlando.

Reserve: Rosemary Gaffney (Grade IV), Aldham Mill Dubloon.

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