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'We don't feel that there's any opposition in that tournament that we can't beat'

Ireland begin their Olympic Sevens campaign tonight/tomorrow morning at 3am Irish time.

Adam Leavy (L) and Jack Kelly (R).
Adam Leavy (L) and Jack Kelly (R).
Image: INPHO

THERE ARE ATHLETES who gear their whole lives towards the Olympics and while the Ireland men’s Sevens team have put in the hours to match the best of them, their ‘Olympic dream’ was more recently conjured: at the start of this Olympic cycle in the autumn of 2016, not one of them would have expected to be packing their bags for Tokyo in 2020, or 2021 as it transpired.

Although Adam Leavy might have harboured the ambition for a while years beforehand: “I was a shot-putter, believe it or not, back in the day,” he smiles. “Once it got into the Leinster [championships] and All-Irelands I was thrown against lads that might have been two or three times the size of me. I didn’t get too far with that… But it was probably for the best.

“I only got introduced to the Sevens after school and it’s only entered our mind as a team over the last couple of years. For the last year in particular, it’s really been our focus, building towards that. And we’ve got a lot of momentum now going into the Olympics.”

“The build-up”, says back Jack Kelly, “although it’s only public now, for us it’s been two years in the making. We had a lot of months after lockdown where not much was going on and now, all of a sudden, everything is happening at a hundred miles an hour.”

Leavy, younger brother of Leinster and Ireland back row Dan Leavy, describes the moment in Monaco in which Ireland qualified for this summer’s Games as a “crazy, crazy feeling”.

“I think I broke down at one stage”, he laughs. “My brother was slagging me saying the hay fever was at me.”

The celebrations, naturally, were a bit different. But good-different. “We went back to the hotel and obviously it’s Covid times, so there was no leaving our hotel floor,” Kelly recalls. “So, we did manage to get a couple of drinks and bring them up and just kind of enjoy each other’s company on the hotel floor.

In terms of it sinking in, obviously, you’ve just played a lot of rugby, you’re quite tired, and you’re just in such a happy, tired feeling; you’re able to just sit back and have a laugh with the guys and the management, as well. And we’re quite a close squad, with players and even management. So, it was definitely a great moment — and I think the fact that we couldn’t actually go out and we did just stay together was almost better for us. It made it all that bit more special.

Leavy, too, is enamoured by the whole men’s Sevens squad, a random assembly of men whose paths through — or out of — professional rugby converged, now a band of brothers chasing something historic. “This program, while it’s only been together for six years or so now, a lot of us have been in it since the start. I joined back in 2017.

There’s a huge amount of connection in the squad that will definitely stand to us in the next few weeks, probably more so than some of the other teams going.

“Looking in from the outside before I joined in 2017, it was a really tightly knit crew and for me coming in, I was nearly a little bit nervous because I was like, ‘How am I going to break into this team when everyone is so friendly?’ But anyone who does come in, everyone welcomes them with open arms and it’s a really great group of lads. And when you’re in game five or six, you do need to trust the people around you and at the end of the day, they’re the things that get you through to the end of games. That stands to us, the tight-knit-ness of the crew, so to speak.”

Back home, of course, there are different crews — the people to whom players’ minds immediately turned on that famous day in Monaco, those who helped to get them there. Parents, partners, sisters, actual biological brothers. “He’s good, yeah,” Leavy says of older sibling Dan, whose own journey has taken a cruel turn over the last couple of years. “He’s on the mend. He’s had a tough year, tough 18 months, so he’s back running now and he’s hoping to get back for pre-season games. But he’s in flying form and to be fair to him, he’s been so positive throughout the whole process.

From my point of view, it’s really inspiring just to see what he’s been through and how he’s carried himself. So, I’m hoping I can keep the family proud over the next couple of weeks — and hopefully keep him proud too.

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Kelly, meanwhile, is very friendly with Leinster and Ireland hooker Rónan Kelleher who joined up with the Lions in South Africa last week. “It’s certainly a big summer for the both of us,” smiles the former Ireland U20s captain. “I’ve been keeping in contact with him over the last few weeks and I’m obviously very proud to see him go over. He thoroughly deserves it — he’s an incredibly hard worker. It’s great to see him getting to where he should be going. He’s texting me all the time, I’m texting him, wishing him well and stuff.”

Over in Cape Town, Kelleher may well have an alarm set to see Ireland’s Olympic bow: they kick off at 3am on Monday Irish time with a fixture against South Africa, who along with the USA and Kenya complete their pool.

“We know we can handle them,” Kelly says of Ireland’s first opponents. “It’s just a question of outworking them.

“With the USA, it’s quite similar: they’ve a bit more range on their team, some bigger guys and then some faster guys, and we kind of know that if we’re able to neutralise some of the big guys and make sure that they’re not getting too much gainline, and work so that we’re in a position to neutralise the speed that they have, then it becomes a real game for us.

“I think we do believe we’re good enough. Our focus would be very much game by game but we don’t feel that there’s any opposition in that tournament that we can’t beat.”

Ireland’s Sevens fixtures, Pool C

  • Ireland v South Africa, 3am Monday
  • Ireland v USA, 10:30am Monday
  • Ireland v Kenya, 3am Tuesday

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