Aga Khan star Billy beaten by Bionic Man as Britain gets the jump on us
IT was a gripping end to a pulsating contest -- but a devastating one for Ireland's Billy Twomey.
The 34-year-old showjumper from Co Cork had been chosen to represent his country in a jump-off for the prestigious Aga Khan Nations' Cup at the RDS yesterday after Ireland and Great Britain had finished the competition tied for first.
First to go was veteran Great Britain jumper Nick Skelton -- the 53-year-old is known as the "bionic man" after he had a hip replacement -- and he propelled the mighty Carlo to a textbook, clear round. But although Twomey had the crowd on his side, his luck had vanished.
And the Irish team's hopes of lifting the cup fell along with the pole on the second-fence of the action-packed jump-off as Twomey's speedy mare Tinka's Serenade just tipped it.
All Irish eyes had been glued to the glamorous new star and "baby" of the team -- 23-year-old Nicola FitzGibbon from Co Kildare aboard her jumping machine Puissance.
"It is every young person's dream to be on this team," she said.
She is now pinning her hopes on making the shortlist for the show-jumping squad aiming for Olympic qualification at the FEI European Show Jumping Championships in Madrid next month.
Earlier, the pomp and pageantry unveiled for the prestigious Aga Khan Nations' Cup proved all too much for some sensitive ears.
However, there was food fit for a king -- or at the very least an outgoing President -- as Mary McAleese enjoyed her very last Aga Khan in the VIP spot.
Among the mouth-watering delights were Clare Island Salmon Rilette and Lemon Posset, with the option of washing them down with a fine bottle of Laurent Perrier Rose at €90.
There was no escaping former agriculture minister Joe Walsh, accompanied by present incumbent Simon Coveney, in their top hats and tails.
Hot on their heels was another former agriculture minister, Mary Coughlan, with her children. But there was a wrinkle in Walsh's brow -- who is chair of Horse Sport Ireland -- as he voiced his concern about the decline in the use of thoroughbred stallions to produce the much-sought after cross with Irish Draught mares.
Another one with a bee in his top hat was Mr Coveney, who said those keeping horses would shortly have to register their location in the event of a disease outbreak.
Elsewhere, the dapper carpenter from Clonakilty, Co Cork, Seamus Lehane, revealed he was holding on to a bit of coveted silverware adorning his mantelpiece since last year as he once again nabbed the Perpetual Challenge Cup for the Champion Yearling.
"This is like Croke Park to us -- everyone wants to win in Dublin," he said.
And the anxious warnings of the commentator following the death-defying antics of the Ukrainian Cossack stunt-riders were ringing in their ears of spectators as they headed home.
"Once again boys and girls, don't try that at home," he quipped.