How often has it been seen, and said, that no matter how loose people’s association with a given sport – or any sport for that matter – might be, there will generally always be one flagship figure in every code with whom even the most casual observer will usually be able to identify. Think of #RonnieOSullivan in snooker or #UsainBolt in athletics or, even in terms of the more mainstream sports, #LionelMessi’s impact on soccer or that of, say, Dan Carter regarding rugby. No matter what the pursuit there will always be someone, or perhaps a few people, who will expose their craft to a whole new audience.
Now, for whatever reason, Show Jumping has never seemingly assumed an overtly prominent place in terms of profile or coverage. If you detect a hint of surprise in that observation, it’s because, relatively speaking in a global context, it’s one of the sports in which Ireland has attained noteworthy success over the years.
For those of us of a certain age, the success of jumpers such as Eddie Macken, Gerry Mullins, Peter Charles, Paul Darragh and, more recently, Cian O’Connor made them regular fixtures on television. The latter named, through thick and thin, has – to me at least – been the standout Irish performer in his craft in recent times.
Often without much hoopla. In certain sports, there’s one standout event which will attract the attention of viewers not normally attuned to goings on. Wimbledon, the Super Bowl and the four Majors in golf, for example. It’s surely the case that the RDS Dublin Horse Show and the Aga Khan Trophy fill those roles for equestrian sport.
The thing is, even those not particularly tuned into equestrian matters may well have heard of the achievements and growing status within his arena of expertise currently commanded by Bertram Allen. The 20-year-old has garnered considerable worldwide success already, though his role – along with O’Connor and Greg Broderick and Darragh Kenny – in claiming the showpiece prize at his home event is surely certain to burgeon things still further.
Not only concerning the Wexford lad himself, but, perhaps more significantly the entire sport. When one considers that next year is an Olympic one and that in such events – along with boxing – has been where Ireland has enjoyed significant levels of success on the biggest stage of all, gut feeling is to think our representatives may be ready to adorn the big stage once again at the biggest sporting show on earth.
In its own right, though, show jumping is a big deal at any time. Consider that leading Flat jockey Joseph O’Brien and all his siblings had stints at it. Or that Captain Con Power, one of our greatest exponents over the poles and walls, has been instrumental in the resurgence of Ballydoyle as a genuine force in National Hunt while his son Robbie is also decorated from both.
Maybe, though, it’s when figures in a given activity from outside a viewer’s direct area of interest register on the radar that a discernible impact has truly been achieved. Thus, while the achievements of the likes of Macken, Darragh, Comdt. Mullins and Capt. John Leddingham are the ones which remain most vivid from times past, some of their greatest rivals – namely John and Michael Whittaker and Nick Skelton – are recalled with equal fondness.
However, for whatever reason, show jumping is not something that jumps off the page regularly. Which is a great pity, because, no matter what the activity, where competition prospers, dedication and effort is required of participants therein in order for them to garner success.
Aficionados will doubtless be righteously indignant at the following, so apologies in advance, but, I would have to admit that the odd cursory glance thrown in the direction of show jumping it was solely due to the fact that there was a bit of a stir caused by the presence of Jessica Springstein – daughter of the great Bruce – and the daughter of US presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg in Dublin.
Allen’s ascent through the echelons of an arena he has thus far illuminated with sparkling class has changed all that and is only likely to continue to, and in so doing, will most likely persuade many more than just this hack to tune in again.