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Niamh helps Ireland clinch thrilling Euro gold

OMAGH’S Niamh McEvoy helped Ireland’s GAIN Irish U16 (Pony) Show Jumping team to a sensational gold medal success at the 2019 FEI European Championships for Ponies at Strzegom in Poland following a dramatic jump-off against Britain.

The dedicated 15-year-old was the only female rider on the five person squad, which also included John Magnier’s grandsons, Tom and Max Wachman, as well as Francis Derwin, and County Down’s John McEntee.

The Irish team finished on a three round total of just four faults following a mammoth competition on the final day, which lasted for over six hours.

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Niamh and her team-mates started the morning in fourth place – carrying forward just the four faults picked up in Thursday’s opening competition.

All four Irish riders jumped clear in the first round of the team final this morning and that moved Ireland into bronze medal position with one round remaining.

Ireland finished the second round of the team final again with a zero score, meaning they would finish on just four faults. France, who had been in a share of the lead with Britain, picked up 12 faults in the final round to finish level with Germany in equal third, while one fence down for Britain meant they would have to jump-off against Ireland for the gold.

All four members of each team went forward to the deciding jump-offs. The tension mounted as the gold medal decider produced one of the most exciting jump-offs in recent memory.

At the finish, both teams finished on a zero score meaning the combined times would decide the winner. Ireland dramatically claimed the gold when their time was just under two seconds faster than Britain!

Niamh’s journey to European gold medalist has been a long one. She first took the reins before she had even turned one, starting her life-long equine affinity with her first pony, Huckleberry.

She then moved on to Seskinore Pony Club where she learned horse riding, horse care, team-work, co-operation, responsibility and leadership, all of which have stood her in good stead since.

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The Loreto Grammar School pupil has remained a member of the club ever since, but her showjumping commitments mean she is usually at venues around Ireland or Europe competing at the top level.

This year has been one of success for Niamh. It all started in February with the National Spring Tour, winning the final.

That qualified her onto the Nations Cup team for Fontainebleau in France where she won a bronze medal with Ireland.

She won the gruelling three-day European trials in Ballina to get onto the Ireland team for Holland where they competed against eight nations, winning silver.

More trials then followed in Lurgan before chef d’équipe, Gary Marshall announced the five-strong European Championship squad for Poland, which was followed by team-bulding at John Magnier’s Coolmore Stud.

That exercise seemed to pay off in Poland where the tight-knit squad, who received advice from Cian O’Connor, sealed a stunning gold title success, while Niamh finished ninth overall in the individual competition.

At the European’s, Niamh competed on Ardfry Skye, who is owned by Omagh native Pascaal Crawford, now based in Galway. He offered her the chance to ride the pony last year and was on the brink of selling it before changing his mind to see if it was as good as the McEvoy’s believed – a decision that has proved fruitful given recent events!

Niamh won’t be riding Skye this weekend, though, as her pony requires a rest.

The same can’t be said for the Tyrone girl, who travels to Mullingar today (Thursday)for the Irish Championships, hoping to add to her title from 2016 and surpass her silver medals successes in 2017 and 2018.

There she will jump a selection of ponies for a variety of owners before, hopefully, earning her place on the Ireland team for the final of the Nations League in Belgium later in the year.

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