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'When I first began, I was like '7 minutes, this will be handy...' it's not handy when you're out there'

Lucy Mulhall leads Ireland’s challenge at the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco.
Jul 19th 2018, 7:00 AM 9,648 1

WE’LL SPARE YOU the comparison between one World Cup and another. This is something quite different.

Even for those relatively familiar to Sevens Rugby, this weekend’s World Cup in San Francisco represents a slightly different cadence to the high-paced game.

The regular group stage format of weekend-long tournaments is shelved in favour of straight knock-out Championship and the ‘back door’ of the Challenge Trophy. So the pressure is on from the first whistle when Fiji women meet Spain tomorrow.

2018 Commonwealth Games - Day Eleven Source: Mike Egerton

For the Irish teams in the Bay Area, the tournament represents another chance to impress and make a statement at the highest level.

Ireland Women have been holding their own in the World Series over the past two years. And, though the men are still pushing towards that competition, they have shone brightly in tough environs – most notably when they stormed to a bronze medal finish when extended an invite to the London leg of the series.

While the men’s success is fuelled by many lightning-quick prospects who have fallen just short – though not necessarily permanently – of provincial level, the women’s team has benefited greatly from an influx of athletes from other sports through a talent identification drive kick-started in 2013.

That same year saw Ireland women go to the last Sevens World Cup with a squad containing just four players already-capped in the short form of the game. In group format, a team dominated by 15-a-side Grand Slam winners managed to beat South Africa and China, but lost to Australia, USA and England.

As a unit, they’re infinitely better prepared now. And the individuals have come a long way too.

Lucy Mulhall Mulhall in 2011 with Wicklow. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“As a young girl, I grew up watching the Sunday Game, wanting to play in Croke Park,” says Lucy Mulhall, who as captain, kicker and playmaker you’ll be seeing a lot of if you tune into eir Sport this weekend.

In 2011, Mulhall realised the dream of playing between the Hogan and Cusack Stand, captaining Wicklow to a junior All-Ireland football title.

Those innate football skills forged in Tinahely have clearly helped Mulhall adapt to a new sport as her accurate restarts often prove a key weapon for Ireland. Her athleticism gave her a leg-up too, but a considerable amount of acclimatisation remains when you are effectively switching from a Marathon to a sprint.

“It’s very different to Gaelic football, which is obviously over an hour – two 30 minutes – whereas you’ve got seven minutes and seven minutes.

“When I first began, I was like: ‘seven minutes, this will be handy, it will fly by!’

“But seven minutes is not handy when you’re out there. It actually feels like so much longer. It’s very intense.”

Lucy Mulhall Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The non-stop need for energy and pace makes Sevens a frenetic sport. And although collisions are usually not as heavy as the 15-a-side game, the crashes occur at a faster pace and dwindle extra chunks of energy in a game where there is little going spare. It’s this skipper’s responsibility to keep her team-mates moving towards space.

“I’ve captained Wicklow before. At some levels, but it was still very new because it was such a different sport. Rugby in itself, you’ve got a lot of communication with referees that you probably don’t have in GAA.”

“It’s incredible. It’s not something I have really thought about too much. It is an incredible honour and it’s something that I got asked to do early on when I got into the squad.

“So, as one of the least experienced players when did get the captaincy, I’ve learned a lot from the girls around me, who have been around rugby for so long.

“They’ve helped me along and together we have grown as a team. I think there’s nearly seven captains out on the pitch at any one time.”

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First up for Ireland tomorrow night (20.12 Irish time, eir Sport) will be the familiar foe of England.

England represent a tough hurdle to cross in round one, but certainly not an insurmountable one as their eighth-place finish in the world series was just three points above Ireland’s 10th.

The women in green can also take enormous confidence from the trouncing dished out to the old enemy in the bronze medal match of the Marcoussis leg of the Rugby Europe Grand Prix last month.

Although England’s squad for this weekend has just five names in common with that match, when Ireland’s relentless energy in attack combined with a jittery English restart paved the way for a seven-try win to clinch the podium place.

England have loaded their squad with the likes of 15-a-side star Emily Scarratt, but Ireland will be confident their own arsenal – the likes of the prolific and pacy Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, the high-fielding Hannah Tyrell and the line-breaking Louise Galvin – can upset the side who finished fifth in the World Series and keep the green curve moving upwards.

Ireland Women’s Sevens squad, 2018 World Cup

Kathy Baker (Blackrock/Leinster)
Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke/Ulster)
Claire Boles (Railway Union/Ulster)
Aoife Doyle (Shannon/Railway Union/Munster)
Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock/Leinster)
Stacey Flood (Railway Union/Leinster)
Louise Galvin (UL Bohemian/Munster)
Eve Higgins (Railway Union/Leinster)
Lucy Mulhall (Rathdrum) (capt)
Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Railway Union/Munster)
Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Audrey O’Flynn (Ireland Women’s Sevens Programme)
Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster)

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