Cian O’Connor laid his riding gear out. His wife, Ruth asked him what he was doing.
“Getting ready for tomorrow”, came the Johnstown man’s answer.
Ruth probably questioned the sanity of her husband. He had failed to qualify for the Olympic final. Probably because they were only married three months, instead of suggesting her husband was deluded, she mildly suggested that he was dreaming.
O’Connor was first reserve and knew that horses failed morning inspections regularly. And so it proved, as Cassal – the mount of world number one, Rolf Goran Bengtsson – was found to have some cuts on his hock. That ruled him out and Cian was in.
On hearing the news, my wife was adamant.
“He’s going to win or at least medal. It always happens in the Olympics.”
I have always said my wife was a woman of rare intellect and nothing surer, Kildare’s Ciano brought home bronze.
We wouldn’t have thought it as we watched Blue Loyd blunder his way around the Olympia in London last Christmas. But then O’Connor was only getting accustomed to Blue Loyd, having acquired him with the Olympics in mind, and the tight indoor circuit certainly didn’t suit.
The improvement was evident through the summer in Florida and with two cracking rounds during the Nations’ Cup in Aachen, one of the sternest examinations of a horse’s jumping credentials of the calendar year.
He was only selected as first reserve to travel but got the call when Denis Lynch was de-selected in controversial circumstances.
A clear round was a good start but 20 faults landed him just one spot outside of the 35 to qualify. With Cassal ruled out, he was back in.
A brilliant clear round that didn’t involve even the rub of a poll suddenly had him in contention. But with five other clears and four more having incurred one time fault, the reality was that despite the promising start, even one fence down would mean curtains.
The atmosphere was electric and as has been the case throughout the entire Olympics, the Irish contingent was significant and vociferous.
The pressure was suffocating and that was just me. For 84.02 seconds, I barely breathed. There were plenty of intakes, but no exhalation. There was a cry of exultation as he jumped clear once more but then, desolation as we saw those two hundredths of a second over the allowed time.
That gave him one fault and to my mind, would cost him any medal.
This was a very tough course though and had O’Connor gone quicker, he might have had a poll down.
Four of the five other clear-rounders failed to follow up and Cian was in a jump-off for silver and bronze.
So he couldn’t rue ill-fortune, given the manner in which he had made it to this situation. Still, human nature will have us think ‘what if?’
There was a sense that the pressure was off from there.
As usual, O’Connor was brilliant in a speed test but without knowing he was well in front, went flat out at the last spread and knocked it.
He punched the air though, delighted to be back in an Olympic setting as a winner, bringing pride to himself, his sport and Ireland.
What’s more, he was greeted as such, by loud cheers and waving tricolours.
It was a fitting acknowledgement. There’s only one Ciano.
- Daragh O’Conchubhair