‘How dreams come true'
Horse & Hound|October 07, 2021
The Dutch display fighting spirit to win the Nations Cup Final, while Great Britain’s Challenge Cup victory is said to mark “the start of a change” in fortunes
JENNIFER DONALD

“AS a sportsman, nothing beats winning with your country in a Nations Cup,” summed up Dutch rider Willem Greve after his side lifted the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup Final for a record third time.

This season finale follows in the wake of a feast of team showjumping at both the Tokyo Olympics and European Championships. However, such is the unpredictable nature of our sport that several nations’ fortunes have ebbed and flowed throughout the year.

The Netherlands certainly wouldn’t have come to Barcelona as favourites but, displaying the fighting team spirit and resilience required in these competitions, the Dutch took it to the wire against defending champions Ireland, who similarly have not enjoyed a stellar year, to triumph by just one time-penalty in Sunday’s thrilling €1.25m (£1,068,890) eight-team decider.

“We had a bit of a struggle the whole year,” said Dutch chef d’equipe, Rob Ehrens. “But I must give big compliments to all our riders – we all fight together, we don’t have big names who, when they are winning, go in a completely different direction.

“It all comes down to these five people for the perfect management of their horses, who want to do everything for their country and who showed us today a marvellous performance. That’s one of the strong pillars of the Dutch team.”

His quartet in the ring consisted of Olympic bronze medallist Maikel van der Vleuten (Beauville Z), Willem Greve with the 17-year-old stallion Carambole, rising young talent Sanne Thijssen (Con Quidam RB) and anchorman Harrie Smolders sealing victory with the team’s third clear on the 12-year-old Monaco, who was making his Nations Cup debut.

“You have to be confident, that’s why they put you in that position,” said Harrie. “But then you have to finish the job and when you do that’s how dreams come true.”

Ireland won the Nations Cup Final here in 2019 amid jubilant scenes when they also secured their Olympic qualification and on Sunday, clears came from pathfinder Denis Lynch (Cristello) and anchorman Darragh Kenny (VDL Cartello), who was part of that victorious squad two years ago.

They were joined for the final day by Ireland’s European Championship hero Eoin McMahon, who was substituted in for Michael G Duffy (Lapuccino 2) after Friday’s competition. Eoin produced a stellar performance but just succumbed to a time-fault on Madeleine Winter-Schulze’s experienced campaigner, Chacon 2.

Michael Duffy’s eight-fault round on Zilton SL Z became the discard score.

“We were only 0.21sec away from a jump-off,” said a slightly deflated Eoin McMahon. “Being a fraction over the time proved costly, but I can’t fault the horse – it was the slow rider!

“We were confident coming here with five good riders – we tried our best and just came up a tiny, tiny bit short. When you come so close, it’s a bit disappointing. But it’s been a great year and the horse has been a superstar for me.”

Darragh Kenny, who earned a share of the double-clear bonus at the show (see box, p46), made light work of Olympic designer Santiago Varela’s testing track that featured two doubles – one a triple-bar to vertical – an open water and an intimidating vertical-oxer-oxer Longines treble to a towering skinny vertical in front of the VIP tribune to finish. But Darragh admitted to feeling the pressure going in as Ireland’s final rider.

“I just knew that to have any chance of winning, I had to be clear and inside the time allowed,” he said. “But overall, we had great team spirit and it was a very good result.”

He described Ireland’s Olympic effort earlier this year as “disappointing for all of us”.

“We did our best going there and we had the best team we could, but it just didn’t work out and now we are just trying to put it all back together again,” he said.

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