Mulhall and the Ireland 7s team in Seville last weekend. Martin Seras Lima/INPHO

'I got texts from people saying their daughters were watching - that's everything'

Lucy Mulhall captained Ireland 7s to their first-ever silver medal on the World Series last weekend.

LUCY MULHALL WAS sitting in a lecture at UCD back in 2014, absent-mindedly flicking on her phone, when up popped an email notification that would change her life.

It was a message from the IRFU’s Stan McDowell asking if Mulhall would come along to a rugby 7s trial. In truth, she didn’t really know what 7s was.

At that stage, the Wicklow woman was still a footballer, having helped her county to victory in the 2011 All-Ireland Junior Championship. But the invitation piqued her interest and Mulhall has never looked back.

This week, she is basking in the afterglow of captaining Ireland to their first-ever silver medal on the World 7s Series. Mulhall and her team-mates came up agonisingly short in the final against Australia in Seville, losing to a last-gasp try, but their performances captured more public attention than ever before.

Mulhall has been playing for Ireland since 2015, becoming captain a year later, but has never experienced anything like the reaction to last weekend.

“Our biggest goal that we have as a group is to put 7s on the map in Ireland,” says 28-year-old Mulhall.

“That’s the most pleasing thing. We’ve had so many young girls looking for autographs in the stadium or for videos to be sent. The support from home, even from Tinahely for myself, nearly everyone from Tinahely has reached out to me.

“I was getting texts from people saying their daughters were watching over the weekend – that’s everything.

“It’s so nice to know that people have seen us play and seen the game of 7s because I believe it’s so infectious that if you watch it once, you want to go back and watch it again.”

beibhinn-parsons-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-lucy-mulhall-and-amee-leigh-murphy-crowe Mulhall was outstanding for Ireland as they reached the final. Martin Seras Lima / INPHO Martin Seras Lima / INPHO / INPHO

Last weekend was a breakthrough achievement. Ireland had been plugging away on the Series since 2015 without real success and Mulhall admits that finishing 9th in a tournament was “almost something to be celebrated” at times in the past.

But with increased resources from the IRFU, a new head coach in Aiden McNulty this season, and a crop of thrilling young players breaking into the current squad, expectations have changed.

“The likes of Beibhinn Parsons, Erin King, and Kate Farrell McCabe come in and see that this is possible,” says Mulhall. “Hopefully, this becomes the norm now.

“I just think this is a really good beginning. I never thought I’d sit around with a silver medal around my neck and think that I’d be so disappointed, but it shows how far we’ve come.

“There’s not a level of imposter syndrome for being in a final, it’s more thinking that we could have got gold.”

McNulty was appointed as Ireland’s head coach last November, having previously worked as an elite performance development officer with Ulster, and was someone the players pushed for after he impressed on an initial interim basis.

Mulhall calls him “the most enthusiastic man I’ve ever seen” and explains how McNulty has breathed confidence into the group.

“A big thing Aiden has worked on is that we now dictate the way we want to play. Before, we often went on the defensive because we were a losing team.

“That has been very powerful for us – figuring out what we have and utilising that. If you’ve got Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe and Beibhinn Parsons on the pitch, that’s a powerful thing, so how can we dictate the game to play to those strengths?”

the-ireland-team-with-their-silver-medals-after-game A happy Ireland camp in Seville. Martin Seras Lima / INPHO Martin Seras Lima / INPHO / INPHO

This mindset was apparent as Ireland made it through to the final in Seville, hammering England 29-0 in the semi-finals as they truly dictated the game.

Murphy Crowe, Eve Higgins, and Mulhall were all named on the Dream Team for the tournament, with the skipper highlighting how McNulty has pushed her to improve on an individual level.

“He has challenged me in brand new ways and opened my eyes to other areas, but he has also helped me to become more aware of what my strengths are,” says Mulhall, who is an ambassador for CRY Ireland.

“I need to constantly keep improving. I can’t sit on my laurels or I’m going to have a 20-year-old come in and take my jersey!”

Ireland have benefited from what they call ‘fight days’ at training, where they replicate match scenarios at match intensity. That might be a scrum on their own their tryline, down by three points, where they have to go the length of the pitch under pressure. 

Mulhall also flags the influence of the likes of S&C specialist Orlaith Curran, physio Joanne Montgomery, manager Eimear Flannery and analyst John Farrell behind the scenes.

It’s worth noting that New Zealand, always leading contenders, were missing from the last two legs of the Series in Málaga and Seville, but Ireland’s high-quality displays spoke for themselves.

The silver medal is something Mulhall says she has dreamt about for eight years, while she is delighted to be able to go back to Tinahely with silverware to show.

“There have been many times where I’ve come home and just been so down after defeats and spent a week off just not being myself,” says Mulhall, who has a 7s contract with the IRFU and also works as a data and systems officer for the union.

“It’s nice to be able to go home now with a smile on my face and sharing what was a really enjoyable weekend.”

lucy-mulhall-stacey-flood-and-amee-leigh-murphy-crowe-celebrate-after-the-game Mulhall, Stacey Flood and Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe. Martin Seras Lima / INPHO Martin Seras Lima / INPHO / INPHO

With the women’s 7s team on the rise, the IRFU will hope the Ireland 15s side can bounce back from missing out on World Cup qualification last year, with new head coach Greg McWilliams leading them into the Six Nations in March and April.

Mulhall was part of that disappointing campaign in Parma last September as Ireland missed out on a World Cup spot, coming straight in for her debut at outside centre for the defeat to Spain before dropping out of the starting XV against Italy and Scotland.

“It was tough knowing girls had worked for nearly five years to get to that point and then you’re coming in for the tournament, so you do take that responsibility on,” says Mulhall.

“I will always try to remember what it was like standing in the jersey singing the national anthem. As disappointing as it was, I want that to be the memory. I feel I have a long way to go as a 15s player to get to a level I’m happy with.”

Mulhall says she would be honoured to play for Ireland 15s again if McWilliams wanted to pick her, though there is plenty to focus on with 7s this year.

Ireland are back in Series action in April in Vancouver, with the World Cup is to come in Cape Town in September. McNulty’s team still need to qualify but should be able to do so through their European regional competition this summer.

And having missed out on the Tokyo Olympics last year, Ireland have a longer-term goal of reaching Paris 2024.

This group is only getting started.

“I’m one of the older girls but to be able to hang out with all these young ones, they’re just a breath of fresh air,” says Mulhall.

“They have given me so much energy and helped me fall in love with 7s all over again.

“It would be great to go to the Olympics but what would be even better is to look back in 20 years’ time and see loads more girls playing rugby on the back of it. It’s not just 7s, it’s girls playing rugby and I’d love to see it.”

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