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Olympics dream drives Ireland Women's 7s after hitting new marker in Sydney

The Irish squad achieved a best-ever finish on the Series in Sydney a fortnight ago.

 THEY’RE A HAPPY group, this Ireland Women’s 7s squad.

And ambitious too. 

While they enjoy travelling together on the World 7s Series, listening to Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird playing a few tunes on her ukelele and laughing at the latest messing behind the scenes, Ireland are predominantly driven by the prospect of hitting new performance markers.

Two weekends ago in Sydney, they reached their first-ever Cup semi-final on the Series, an achievement that Louise Galvin admits “was a long time coming and something we probably should have achieved before now.”

Source: Irish Rugby TV/YouTube

It’s a fair point – the women’s team have been on the circuit since 2013 barring one season of absence – but it also highlights the restless desire this squad have to prove themselves at the highest level.

Their semi-final against hosts Australia saw Ireland lose 24-12 after giving up an early lead, before a defeat to the US denied the Irish girls their first-ever Series medal.

“It was a strange one in that it was a record result but we actually all left pretty much deflated and feeling a bit annoyed with the end result,” says Kerrywoman Galvin, who is also an Ireland 15s international.

“I take that as a positive really, that we’re not here just for any token efforts or token results. We’re not going to come back and go, ‘Ah, it’s great to come fourth’ because even with a relatively inexperienced squad, we knew we could have got second or third.”

The next leg of the Women’s Series isn’t until 20 and 21 April in Japan, but this Ireland squad have a hectic schedule ahead for the rest of this year and, hopefully, 2020.

The Tokyo Olympics is on everyone’s minds in the world of 7s, with Galvin explaining that it inevitably comes up in conversation with other teams on the circuit. 

The top four finishers in this season’s World Series will qualify automatically into the Olympics, taking four of the 12 spots in Tokyo, with hosts Japan also getting a place.

Ireland are currently sixth in the Series but, realistically, it will be difficult for them to break into the top four of New Zealand, USA, Canada and Australia over the remaining three legs of this campaign.

Ireland's Aisleigh Baxter and Louise Galvin at the end of the match Galvin, centre, made her 7s debut in 2015. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

The next possibility will be the regional European tournament later this year, with the winner of that competition qualifying for Tokyo. The likes of France, Russia, England and Spain are likely to provide stiff competition.

With the winners of the other regional tournaments in Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America – but not North America if USA and Canada go through from the Series – also advancing into the Olympics, there is one more avenue for qualification.

That comes via a repechage tournament in 2020, made up of the top nations who have missed out but are fighting desperately to achieve their dream.

Galvin was part of the Ireland squad that came up short in the repechage tournament at UCD before the 2016 Rio Olympics, when Russia beat them in the semi-finals.

So, while Galvin says she and her team-mates can’t be thinking about Tokyo every day, it’s a huge motivation.

“If you’re constantly looking at a big goal like that in the future, then you’re probably not doing enough in your day-to-day process. But for everyone, it’s a massive goal.

“Because 7s has become an Olympic sport, it’s run around an Olympic cycle and this year is a qualifying year.

“It’s always there in the background and it’s absolutely a goal but goal number one is to qualify and then we’ll go from there. How we do that is by training better every day, learn from our mistakes, take stock of what we did well to get to that semi-final, then realise what we need to do to get to second or third or win a Cup final.

“We need to be targeting medals and, for once, it’s a realistic aim.” 

Ireland’s team huddle Ireland have major ambitions over the next 18 months. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Galvin is excited about the depth Ireland are building.

With Ashleigh Baxter, Stacey Flood and Katie Fitzhenry – out after tearing her ACL in Dubai in November – missing in Sydney, others stood up.

Brittany Hogan debuted in Dubai and featured well in Sydney, while Emily Lane and 17-year-old Beibhinn Parsons – a “brilliant prospect” – got their first taste of Series action a fortnight ago. Others like Nic a Bhaird and Anna McGann have come through well in recent times.

The official World Rugby Dream Team from Sydney included Ireland captain Lucy Mulhall and the superb 19-year-old Eve Higgins, while Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe was very unlucky to miss out after another prolific weekend with nine tries, leaving her only two behind New Zealand’s Michaela Blyde in this season’s overall Series try-scoring charts with 18.

“On other teams, their out-and-out speedster is maybe just that, a one-trick pony, but for us Leigh is a massive workhorse, really knows the game inside out,” says Galvin of Murphy Crowe.

“When she’s not getting the ball in space, she’s coming inside, looking to snipe around rucks. I thought she was phenomenal.”

An Ireland Development squad heads to Madrid next weekend before the main squad takes part in a competition in Nice on St. Patrick’s weekend along with several of the other leading nations.

Ireland are “chomping at the bit” to get to the Kitakyushu leg of the Series in Japan and then on to Langford in Canada on 11/12 May before the campaign ends in Biarritz on 15/16 June.

Ireland’s Aoife Doyle Stacey Flood and Eve Higgins celebrate at the end of the game Ireland are back in action on the Series in April. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Galvin, who made her Ireland debut in Dubai in 2015, still takes delight in getting to see the world through 7s alongside team-mates who have become her close friends.

“Sometimes you’re pinching yourself, especially when you come back to the real world and work,” says Galvin, who is a physiotherapist.

“There’s such a limited timescale on it, so you have to enjoy it. For me, personally, one of the nice things is being able to meet people. There are Irish people all over the world and no matter where we go, they come out to support us.

“Sydney is a great Irish hotspot and that was brilliant. I got to meet up with Cora Staunton over there, who I’d know from my Gaelic football days, and got to see the [Greater Western Sydney] Giants’ set-up and see how she’s getting on.

“She came and watched us train and brought a few of her team-mates. Sport is such a small world, it’s like a microcosm of life and it’s brilliant like that. You can be on the far side of the world and meet someone you played against.”

Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey break down Ireland’s dogged win against Scotland in Murrayfield, and look at the room for improvement, in the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Murray Kinsella

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