Harry McNulty captains Ireland 7s in Dubai this weekend.

'I can't do it in the Masai Mara! But when I get back to Nairobi I can do my running'

The well-travelled Harry McNulty captains the Ireland 7s in Dubai this weekend.

THE WEEK AFTER he played a key role in helping Ireland to a bronze medal at this year’s 7s World Cup, Harry McNulty was out working in the Masai Mara national reserve park in Kenya.

Others might have seen a week off after the World Cup as the perfect time for the pool, cocktails, and a sun lounger but McNulty was busy among the lions, elephants, and zebras.

His friend is a safari operator in the famous wildlife area and he roped in McNulty – who specialises in photography and videography when he’s not playing rugby – for a photography-based safari.

The 29-year-old Irishman will be back in Kenya later this month to help lead another tour.

“I’m always trying to make sure that off-field I have something going on because rugby isn’t forever,” explains McNulty, who has taken over as the Ireland 7s captain for this weekend’s World Series leg in Dubai, which kicks off early tomorrow morning Irish time.

Those who follow McNulty on social media will know all about his wanderlust. His Instagram updates would give anyone travel envy. He has turned it into work to supplement his rugby contract. At one stage a couple of years ago, he was being paid by a cruise liner company to travel and post about his adventures online. Fiji, Jordan, Japan, Uganda, Alaska, you name it – he’s been all over the globe.

For McNulty, the main thing is his professional 7s career with Ireland but he takes every possible opportunity to get out on the road. It’s no surprise when you look at his upbringing.

irelands-harry-mcnulty-takes-a-selfie-of-the-team-after-the-series-in-london McNulty gets a photo of the Irish team. Martin Seras Lima / INPHO Martin Seras Lima / INPHO / INPHO

He was born in Bahrain, where his parents, Sandra and Aidan, met when they were both working there. The family soon moved on to London, where younger brother Sean was born, and then to New York for 10 years. Harry also has two sisters, Ella and Ciara.

They subsequently went back to Bahrain before Harry and Sean headed to Ireland for boarding school at Rockwell College in Tipperary. They were good rugby players, with Harry going into the Munster academy and Sean later joining Leinster’s academy. Harry’s pathway took him into the 7s squad, while Sean now plays in the US, where they had a season together with the LA Giltinis in 2021.

“I’ve always travelled, my family have always travelled, I’ve been very lucky to move all over the world so I have just kept on with that,” says Harry.

“It’s something I love to do. With 7s it’s something you always do, you’re travelling to 10 different countries around the world.”

The 7s calendar works perfectly for McNulty, given that Ireland don’t have tournaments or games every weekend. Ireland is his base but he’s not there a huge amount unless he’s with the squad for training. 

“After every two legs of the World Series, we always get a week off, so I usually use that opportunity,” he explains.

“We don’t have to be in camp that week. There will be some running to do but that’s sent out online and I can just go and do my run… well, I can’t do it in the Masai Mara! But when I get back to Nairobi I can do my running and as long as I’m fit, there’s no worries and nobody minds.”

harry-mcnulty-with-semi-kunatani-after-the-game McNulty with Fiji's Semi Kunatani. Martin Seras Lima / INPHO Martin Seras Lima / INPHO / INPHO

McNulty is an outgoing, affable character and has built friendships with players from other teams on the World Series. As a kid, he saw how his dad had made lifelong friends by playing in an invitational 7s tournament in Hong Kong, so it’s something he wanted to do himself.

The fact that all the competing 7s teams often stay in the same hotel at World Series events makes it easier to mix. Sometimes all 16 men’s teams and the 12 women’s teams are all staying in one place.

“So you get in an elevator and there’s a guy from Kenya, someone from Japan, someone from Argentina, and an American fella standing there. It’s like the beginning of a joke!” says McNulty.

“There’s often a buffet for your food and you’re in among people from different countries and all different backgrounds. You make friends around the world and you can go anywhere and be a short distance from someone you met on the Series in a buffet line. It’s cool, it really suits me.”

McNulty is one of only two remaining ‘Originals’ in the Ireland 7s squad. Mark Roche is the other. McNulty was there in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina in June 2015 when the Irish men’s 7s team was relaunched in European Division C. He has been there for every step of the journey since, leading to this year’s third-place finish at the World Cup.

McNulty’s staying power is remarkable but he’s not someone who spends much time living in the past.

“You go from this ‘Originals’ squad where you’re in the middle of nowhere in Eastern Europe,” he says. “For me, that really helped because I was learning the game from a lower level and as it got harder, you had this really nice growth.

harry-mcnulty-celebrates-after-the-game-with-supporters Harry with his father, Aidan, at the World Cup this year. Travis Prior / INPHO Travis Prior / INPHO / INPHO

“That was nice but for us now, it’s at this level where every two years there’s a major event whether it’s the World Cup or Olympics. The qualifiers are always the year previous to that. There’s always something major going on. You can’t ever stop.”

The top four finishers on the Series this season qualify straight into the 2024 Olympics in Paris and although there are alternative routes, it’s a very realistic goal for Ireland. Indeed, they are dreaming about winning a goal medal at the Olympics, particularly having had disappointment in Tokyo at the last Games.

If they are to achieve something special, McNulty will be pivotal. He doesn’t grab the headlines in the way star men Terry Kennedy and Jordan Conroy do, but McNulty is the glue that holds Ireland together. Restarts, tackles, carries, the breakdown, lineouts, fixing defenders in midfield, sheer work-rate – his efforts make everyone else look good.

Asked about his role, McNulty says he’s just happy when he does his job. He quickly highlights how Kennedy just won World Rugby men’s 7s player of the year, that Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe was nominated for the women’s award, how Josh van der Flier is 15s player of the year, and that four Irishmen made World Rugby’s dream team.

“There are so many Irish people at the top of their game,” says McNulty.

He’s one of them.

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