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Dublin: 6°C Wednesday 25 November 2020
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Sevens speedster Kennedy waiting patiently for another tilt at Tokyo

Under very different circumstances, this weekend would have been the central focus of Ireland’s Sevens season.

SHANE LOWRY walking the 18th fairway at Portrush comes to mind. Times when the most cherishable sporting moments are not the instant a prize was clinched or the most perfect, nerveless execution, but that rare chance to savour an achievement before the final ball rattles into the cup.

For Terry Kennedy, his fondest memory from nearly four years among the Ireland Sevens squad is not the most impressive display of his own pace and power, but a late break that allowed him to canter the last few strides under the posts knowing it was mission accomplished. A landmark feat for a programme – never mind a team – still in its infancy.

terry-kennedy-runs-in-a-try Source: Yu Chun Christopher Wong/INPHO

Ireland were 21-7 up with less than a minute to go against the hosts at last year’s Hong Kong 7s. A clean inside pass from Adam Leavy, a deft scything angle and Kennedy was in lush open green grass, shoulders back and legs whirring to full stride.

He has scored better tries, scores that had more say on a contest’s outcome, but before touching down he was able to consider the achievement. More than a 28-7 win, this sealed Ireland’s place at the top table, the 7s World Series, for 2019/20.

“It was just a run in at the end and the game was probably over,” Kennedy downplays to The42 this week, “but we could kind of embrace the fact that we’d done it after four years building up to it.”

Four years of building and a year on from having to pick up the pieces after dreams of smooth progress into the World Series were brought crumbling by a semi-final loss to Japan in the 2018 tournament.

“The first year, it was like it was meant to be – we had won everything up to that point. Then fell at almost the last hurdle. It was tough coming back with extra pressure, but it made it all the sweeter to win it.

That was the most special day I’ve had in rugby, especially after the hardship of losing out the year before. To come back and get the job done it showed us all coming together like that.”

As luck would have it, having worked so hard to make it to the World Series Ireland’s debut season on the big tour has been short-lived. The Covid-19 pandemic forced a halt to be called on the series after March’s sixth leg in Vancouver. Remaining legs in Singapore, Hong Kong, Paris and London were quickly rescheduled for the coming Autumn, but there is still no certainty on whether they will be played.

terry-kennedy-scores-a-try Source: Yu Chun Christopher Wong/INPHO

Although the World Series was the long-standing goal for Anthony Eddy’s side, their debut round-the-world tour was always going to be overshadowed by a last-ditch attempt to qualify for the Olympic Games. Before all sport was turned upside down, the plan was to build a depth of experience, big game nous, and peak at a winner-goes-to-Tokyo tournament that was to be played this very weekend.

Tomorrow then, might have been another landmark day for Ireland’s fast-rising Sevens setup. Instead, they are resting up and looking forward to having another cut at making the now postponed Olympics.

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Group training will begin again for the Sevens in Abbotstown on 6 July and Kennedy will be a key part of the bids to make it on to bigger stages again. A son of international wing Terry Snr, Kennedy Jnr cut his teeth at St Mary’s and was in the Leinster underage setup after playing an understudy’s role in Ireland’s excellent U20 season in 2016.

His name was etched in many a mind when he scored six times in a trial game that year, but with the fledgling national 7s setup up and running, he came to realise his talents were more suited to the short form of the game rather than 15-a-side.

“I had a conversation with Peter Smyth (then Leinster academy manager) after my first year. I just felt I was more suited to Sevens.

“I wasn’t getting the opportunities at Leinster. At that stage there wasn’t a full-time Sevens contract, but he said just stick at it for the time-being and…. in those next few months (contracts) were finalised. I played Sevens for that full year, really enjoyed it.

“It was an easy enough conversation to have because both parties were happy enough.”

ireland-terry-kennedy Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

His performances have proven that decision to be a prescient  one. Kennedy was named Ireland’s Sevens player of the year last May and did not ease off the pedal when the award was on the mantlepiece.

Kennedy has worked as a key weapon in Ireland’s attack. Ranked seventh for clean breaks throughout the World Series, fifth for tries scored. There aren’t many who have stats on the board to earn the right to use Jordan Conroy as a mere dummy runner and break 55 metres from centre field to the corner for his own score. Yet that’s exactly what the 23-year-old did to seal a momentous win over Australia in Cape Town in December.

Source: World Rugby/YouTube

The last few months have brought a rare opportunity for Kennedy and his team-mates to steer clear of airports and planes and get lengthy stint on the home front. Aside from catching up on sporting autobiographies – Andre Agassi and Philly McMahon’s piqued his interest – Kennedy has put down some groundwork for life away from the field.

He completed a degree in commerce in UCD in 2018 before taking a year to focus solely on his sport. This year was to see him step into the workforce, a part-time role in AIB to fill his non-training Wednesdays. Obviously, the Coronavirus spiked all best-laid plans, so the flyer has instead put his mind to online courses in corporate banking and investment finance to give himself a boost when he’s not wearing boots.

As long as he has them on, though, Tokyo will keep calling out.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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