Ireland sevens captain Lucy Mulhall (middle), flanked by Eve Higgins (L) and Anna McGann (R), celebrates Ireland's Olympic qualification. Martin Seras Lima/INPHO
Fighting Irish

Ireland's 'bees' provide positive buzz for women's rugby with landmark Olympic qualification

Lucy Mulhall described sports psychologist Siobhain McArdle’s work with the team as a ‘turning point’ as Ireland stamped their ticket for Paris 2024.

IRELAND SKIPPER LUCY Mulhall has described her side’s historic Olympic qualification as “surreal” and stressed that their feat is just one good-news story of many in Irish women’s rugby, which has endured another difficult year on and off the pitch.

With a place at Paris 2024 up for grabs, the IRFU prioritised the sevens programme over the XVs this year and while the Six Nations campaign was an unrepeatable disaster, Mulhall and her teammates will adorn the headlines for all the right reasons after getting over the line in Toulouse this morning.

Speaking immediately after their nail-biting 10-5 victory over Fiji in what was ostensibly an Olympic playoff, captain Mulhall saluted her teammates, their families, and sports psychologist Siobhain McArdle whose work with the team she described as a “turning point”.

“We obviously had a good start to the season and then kind of had a bit of a blip the last two tournaments”, said Mulhall, “and it’s amazing that we were able to just get on top of our rugby and start playing some good rugby again.

“It was always going to come down the wire but to come through a straight shootout against Fiji, it was amazing.

“It just feels really, really good and the game itself was, like, so up and down. We’re so relieved.”

With the clock red, Ireland led 10-5 thanks to two Amee-Leigh Murphy-Crowe tries but hearts were in mouths as Fiji’s Younis Bese launched one final attack, booting downfield and giving chase.

Stacey Flood had other ideas, however, winning both the ball and a penalty to kill the game, and Mulhall said that the Railway Union star’s intervention at the death typified Ireland’s defensive output.

“The heart within the group, the connection in the line… We never seemed to question that they were ever going to score because we were just so connected.

“And on the last play, for Stacey to chase the whole way back, for Be (Beibhinn Parsons) to be right on top of her… And luckily we got a penalty, but even if we didn’t get the penalty, we were already going to be there, which just shows how much fight was in this group.”

lucy-mulhall-and-amee-leigh-murphy-crowe-celebrate-after-the-game Lucy Mulhall and Amee-Leigh Murphy-Crowe celebrate. Martin Seras Lima / INPHO Martin Seras Lima / INPHO / INPHO

Mulhall paid tribute to Ireland’s sports psychologist Siobhain McArdle, who has been on the IRFU’s books since last September.

McArdle’s influence on the side has been “amazing”, Mulhall said, and a “real turning point”.

“Siobhain’s been so good and we’ve even kind of captured the team of bees and working together as bees, and she’s helped us to be able to be present.

“She’s really worked on us being able to shake off all those external noises that might be around us or lacking in confidence and just be able to be in the moment.

“And whenever we are in the moment, whenever we’re present as a group, we always feel very connected and it’s definitely brought out the best in us.”

Mulhall got “shivers” as she and her teammates left the field to the acclaim of a huge contingent of travelling support, all of whom were able to witness in person a landmark moment for the women in green.

It made it extra special, she said, to be able to seal the final automatic Olympic spot in front of loved ones who fuel the team irrespective of results on a given weekend.

“It’s like it was just meant to be this way, to have all of our family here,” Mulhall said.

“The growth even in the last couple of years… It’s the largest group (of supporters) ever.

“We have some random people who came over to support us who are not connected to any families and that’s amazing for us: to have young kids wearing Irish sevens jerseys just because they’re sevens fans.

It’s amazing to share with the people who are normally at home in bed watching and going through all the ups and downs of the heartbreaks with you but not able to be there. And they’re the ones that often pick you up when you get off a flight and you’re a bit disappointed after a tournament, or they’re the ones that are there with a big smile at home the second you do get in.

“It takes so long and we put in so much work to get here, so it’s great to have a year now and actually focus on performing really well for the Olympics because we’re very aware that this does a lot for growing sevens in the country.

“But what’s even more would be an Olympic medal, so that definitely has to be our next goal and it’s just really exciting that we can actually have time now to build towards that.”

Allan Temple-Jones’ side need look no further than their male equivalents — and the extent to which the men’s team was able to capture the public’s imagination even in what transpired to be a disappointing Tokyo Olympic campaign — for evidence of their own capacity to transform their sport in Ireland.

Even as she caught her breath only moments after full-time, Mulhall was acutely aware of the positive implications of her side’s Olympic qualification.

“We just want to grow the game of rugby in Ireland, and in particular for women, and show that there’s loads of good news stories out there — plenty of them,” she said. “It’s just great that we can add one and hopefully get some young girls being able to see and aspire to be playing for their country because it’s an amazing sport. And in Ireland in particular, I think it suits our DNA of just being ‘fighting Irish.’

“It’s just nice to have some good news around and hopefully we do inspire the next generation.”

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