The Aga Khan trophy glittered in the sun as the Irish team completed their victory lap. The bright smile on Conor Swail’s face said it all – joy, triumph, but most of all sheer relief.
It had all boiled down to an exciting final – Ireland versus France in a play-off in tense and dramatic conditions.
No one dares to cheer for Ireland in the Nations Cup, especially when we’re winning.
Every burst of triumph during a lap is met with a violent “Pssst” as the home crowd at the RDS in Dublin knows not to scare the horses.
And so every member of the Irish team approached the jumps in quiet conditions – with the cheers of the crowd more than making up for it after each clear round.
For veteran Cian O’Connor it was a very special occasion. He has previously spoken about how he dreamed of competing in the Nations Cup alongside his gifted young student Max Wachman – and that dream came true yesterday.
It was a day he will forever remember for the 18-year-old Wachman from Gooldscross, outside Cashel, Co Tipperary, who is the grandson of renowned horse trainer John Magnier, when he made his first appearance representing Ireland in the Nations Cup had while he is currently awaiting the results of his Leaving Cert.
It was a success made all the sweeter when the Irish team of Swail, O’Connor, Wachman and Shane Sweetnam qualified for the Paris Olympics last week.
Back at the RDS for the first time in three years, the atmosphere among the home crowd was electric, but the loudest noise in the arena was the fluttering of the tricolor on the flagpole as every Irish driver took to the course.
O’Connor showed nerves of steel in a clean-shooting final round aboard his horse Kilkenny, leaving Ireland and France level on points at the end of the main event with four penalties.
The US, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Brazil and Norway lagged behind with penalties.
And then there was a quick turn to change course for the stabbing, removing jumps and bringing out a roller to flatten the grass.
And then it was the wire. France’s clean-shooting driver Marc Dilasser against Ireland’s Conor Swail aboard Count Me In. After a clean round from Dilasser, all the chatter died down as Swail walked to the ring and everyone held their breath.
The pressure was on but he delivered in spades.
“Conor Swail takes over the Aga Khan, Ireland takes over the Aga Khan,” declared the announcer as the RDS erupted and Swail exited the ring to be greeted with a hug by Michael Blake, Ireland’s chef d’equipe.
Blake, who also happens to be an opera singer with a tenor voice, had previously stated that they really wanted to win in Dublin and had “set their sights on” that event.
“Of any show in the world, every Irishman wants to ride on the Aga Khan’s team,” he said.
It is the first time Ireland have won the prestigious show jumping competition since 2015 and for viewers it sealed the joy of being back after nearly three years of Covid restrictions.
Before that, there had been another wonderful moment at the horse show when 100-year-old Robert Hehir, from Kinsealy, Co. Dublin, won first prize in the Irish Draft Stallion competition for his six-year-old horse, Drynam Hero.
He was there with his two nieces, who called Robert’s daughter in Australia with the good news. The hundred-year-old farmer was greeted as a celebrity as he left the ring, and strangers came to congratulate him, shake his hand, and ask his secret to a long and happy life.
“Horses and dogs kept him young,” was Robert’s reply with a steely, “Never give up.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/aga-khan-the-rds-jumps-for-joy-as-silence-and-18-year-old-leaving-cert-student-max-see-irish-team-home-41924538.html Aga Khan: The RDS jumps for joy as silence falls and 18-year-old Leaving Cert student Max watches the Ireland team go home