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Sunday 29 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Bryan Keane/INPHO Parsons has become a star of Irish women's rugby.
# grand ambition
'In school, I remember writing down 'Olympian'... It's the pinnacle'
20-year-old Beibhinn Parsons is focusing on 7s rugby ahead of a big season on the Series.

BACK IN MARCH, Beibhinn Parsons was greeting Ireland fans after a Six Nations game against Wales when a mother handed over her baby for a photo and told Parsons that she had named the child Beibhinn after her.

Parsons smiles as she remembers the moment. This lady was working in Leinster during the inter-provincial championship and saw Parsons playing for Connacht. 

“I don’t know, she liked the name, I suppose!” says Parsons.

It was a strange experience hearing that someone had named their child after her, but it sums up the impact Parsons has made in Irish rugby since bursting onto the scene to make her debut at the age of just 16.

She’s sitting at the IRFU’s high peformance centre in Dublin where she and her Ireland 7s team-mates have been preparing for next weekend’s World Series leg in Dubai, the first of the season for the women’s squad.

Having initially broken through in 15s rugby, Parsons is now an important player in the 7s squad too. Her big target right now is becoming an Olympian, something she was thinking about from early days growing up in Ballinasloe.

“In school, I just have this memory of everyone writing down their goals and dreams and it was like ‘be a millionaire’ or this, this and this, but I remember writing down ‘Olympian’ but I didn’t even know what for.”

At that stage, Parsons didn’t have any idea 7s rugby would give her a shot at being an Olympian. She wasn’t particularly interested in athletics either. She just wanted to go to the Olympics some day. That day could arrive in Paris in 2024.

“It’s the pinnacle of being an athlete,” says Parsons, who recently scored five tries on her All-Ireland League debut for Blackrock.

beibhinn-parsons Travis Prior / INPHO Parsons has shown her class on the World 7s Series. Travis Prior / INPHO / INPHO

“If you can do that and with the team that we have, there is so much love for each other, I don’t know, it is about the journey and then to become an Olympian, it’s the journey getting there is what’s important.”

If Ireland finish in the top four of the World Series this season, their spot in Paris will be sealed. If not, there are other avenues to qualify through so it would be a big shock if this Irish squad don’t get there. Their performances on last season’s Series – they finished fourth – suggest that they’re a growing force in 7s rugby, even if they had a disappointing World Cup this year.

“It took us a good few weeks to process it and review it but I think it’s going to be one of those moments, low troughs, in your journey where you look back on it like, ‘Yeah, that didn’t work out for us but look how far we have come,’” says Parsons of their seventh-place finish.

“And maybe it was an eye-opener that will really stand to us. That’s the way I’m looking at it. It wasn’t our best performance, we sort of had a tough pool but either way, if we want to be world-beaters, we have to beat those teams.

“I think it’s going to stand to us. It doesn’t really feel like that now but I think if we can achieve the goals we want to achieve, we will look back at that and think ‘Yeah, that happened for a reason.’”

With her focus right now on the 7s, it remains to be seen how much involvement Parsons has with the Ireland 15s team this season.

One of the World Series legs falls during the Six Nations so there will be tough decisions for the IRFU to make with dual-internationals like Parsons.

There are new 15s rugby contracts in place for women’s rugby this season, but Parsons was already on a 7s contract prior to this season.

“I suppose I’m not the one making the decision on where I’m going and what I’m doing so it’s hard to really get fully invested when you’re not in the systems,” says Parsons of whether she will still play 15s this season.

“I’m not out there training with the 15s girls and I think the priority this year is definitely 7s.

beibhinn-parsons-after-scoring-a-try Nick Elliott / INPHO Parsons scored five tries on her Blackrock debut in the AIL. Nick Elliott / INPHO / INPHO

“If I get the chance to play 15s, I’ll take it with two hands and run with it because I absolutely love playing 15s but I just don’t know yet.”

Whatever the code, there’s no doubt that Parsons is a superstar. The profile seems to sit easily with her, though, and she has plenty going on outside rugby to keep her busy.

Having struggled with the attendance commitments of the first two years of a biomedical science degree – tricky when she was travelling with rugby – she has switched to studying communications.

“It’s treating me well so far, so I’ll stick it out. I find it really interesting, your guys’ job, I think it’s really cool. I was always interested in it, especially radio and podcasting so it seems I can do it while still on the circuit.” 

And though her life involves a fair bit of jet-setting these days, Parsons is still very much a Ballinasloe woman at heart.

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Two of her old Ballinasloe Rugby Club team-mates Aoibheann Reilly and Méabh Deely, are now thriving with Ireland too. It’s no shock to Parsons.

“People are like, ‘Jeez, that’s mad, three of the contracted women’s players are from Ballinasloe’ and I’m like, ‘Do you know what, I could name off another 10 [who could make it].’

“I just think there is so much talent there and there is so much good coaching that it’s not a surprise to me at all.

“If you put in the time and if you have really good people around you, which I have been so lucky to have, people prosper.”

beibhinn-parsons-celebrates-scoring-her-sides-first-try-with-lauren-delany Dan Sheridan / INPHO Celebrating a try for the Ireland 15s team. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Parsons aims to continue to make the people of Ballinasloe proud as this Ireland 7s squad gets set for the launch of a new campaign in Dubai next weekend.

She praises head coach Aiden McNulty’s energy and highlights S&C coach Orlaith Curran as “the brains of the operation,” while she feels the quality of the players is there to achieve something big.

“The belief in our team is massive because we have such a good mix,” says Parsons. “When you have Amee-Leigh [Murphy Crowe] on your team, Lucy [Mulhall], Stacey [Flood], Eve Higgins – they’re names that are known all over the Series, all over the world.

“So, we have the talent, we have the belief, we just have to go out and do it.

“Seeing what the lads can do [Ireland men's 7s finished third at the World Cup], it is obviously amazing and we know that there’s an Olympic structure here that works and we can see it first-hand.

“But we also know we can do it off our own bat as well and we have the talent in the room to go and do it ourselves, no matter if it hasn’t been done before.”

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