Six years on from starting in the European Third Division, the Ireland Sevens team will be playing in the Olympics.
t has been an amazing journey for the squad, which was only restarted in 2015 with an eye to qualifying for the Rio games. Ireland came up short in the final qualifying tournament on that occasion, but made no mistake this time around as they beat France in Monaco in the final last Sunday to book their ticket to Tokyo.
The emotion at the final whistle, summed up by captain Billy Dardis’ memorable interview, highlighted just how special the achievement was for a group of players who have soldiered together from the very bottom to the biggest stage in the sport.
Dardis joined The Left Wing podcast this week to discuss Ireland’s big moment, along with team-mate Harry McNulty, who remarkably scored the final try against France last weekend, and also got on the score-sheet in the first game Ireland played back in 2015 against Turkey in Bosnia.
Former Leinster academy player Dardis described the emotional scenes in Monaco after qualification was assured.
“It really was quite weird, and I still haven’t come up for a word to describe it all. It was quite overwhelming,” Dardis said.
“There were guys actually breaking down on the pitch after the game. It was pretty raw and then I went and did that interview. The Olympics is weird, as a rugby player you don’t dream your whole life of going, but then it kind of crops up.”
“It was eight, nine, ten months of doing gruelling dark sessions,” Dardis said of the lockdown training period. “There are so many times when you are pushing yourself through a dark place and all you can hear is your own breath, and you are struggling to think of things to motivate yourself.”
For McNulty, who is one of the squad’s veterans, taking part in the Olympics is a fitting reward for his years of service.
“We have been through so many highs and lows,” McNulty said.
“You just start thinking of the places you played in and the players you played with who have gone on to bigger and better things. Hugo Keenan and Shane Daly have gone on to play for Ireland. When you sit back and look back at the photos and memories, it all comes together and creates an amazing story.
“I always say to people that I hope this story doesn’t repeat itself or something has gone terribly wrong! Hopefully we won’t have another Irish team playing in Bosnia or the depths of Europe. I’m delighted to have been involved from the beginning. It has really changed my life.”
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