The Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman Award for May: Lucy Mulhall (Rugby)
After the disappointment of this year’s Six Nations tournament, Irish women’s rugby was in desperate need of a pick-me-up, and that’s precisely what the Sevens squad provided in Toulouse last month when they qualified for the Olympic Games.
At the conclusion of the seven-tournament World Series, which featured 17 nations, Ireland were fifth in the overall standings, enough to secure their place in Paris 2024 along with hosts France, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. The rest of the contenders will have to battle it out for the seven remaining slots in tournaments over the next 12 months.
While it was ultimately their 10-5 victory over Fiji that sealed qualification, Ireland had started the tournament in style with a 27-7 win over France, Amee-Leigh Murphy-Crowe scoring a hat-trick of tries.
They followed a defeat by Australia with a victory over Brazil that kept them on course for that meeting with Fiji, two more tries from Murphy-Crowe bringing her tally in Toulouse to seven and sending them on their way to a historic success.
Our biggest challenge was deciding which one of the team should be our sportswoman of the month, because there were no shortage of contenders. Murphy-Crowe was, of course, one, as was Eve Higgins, not to mention Stacey Flood and Beibhinn Parsons. But in the end we plumped for captain Lucy Mulhall – for her brilliant leadership, for her individual performances and as a representative of the entire squad.
The Wicklow woman, who won her 50th cap in Toulouse, was Ireland’s highest points scorer over the seven tournaments and fourth overall in the standings. She has been playing Sevens with Ireland for nine years and was part of the team that came close to qualifying for Rio and Tokyo.
Little wonder, then, that she was overcome with emotion after the Fiji game, describing the achievement as “surreal”. “We are very aware that this will do a lot for growing Sevens in the country. We just want to grow the game of rugby for women in Ireland and show that there are loads of good news stories out there, plenty of them, and it is just great that we can add one.”
Previous Monthly Winners (the awards run from December 2022 to November 2023, inclusive):
December: Eilish and Roisin Flanagan (Athletics). The combined efforts of the Tyrone twins, who finished in 11th and 12th place, helped Ireland to a bronze medal at the European Cross Country Championships in Italy, despite being without Fionnuala McCormack and Ciara Mageean.
January: Rhasidat Adeleke (Athletics). Where do you start? The University of Texas runner is having a phenomenal start to the year, setting six Irish records so far. The latest was her smashing of her own 400 metres record, her time of 49.54 making the 20-year-old the first Irish woman to break 50 seconds.
February: Orla Prendergast (Cricket). The 20-year-old was named in the T20 World Cup team of the tournament after impressing with both bat and ball for Ireland. And she started a spell with English side Western Storm in style in April, scoring 115 on her debut.
March: Rachael Blackmore (Horse racing). She’s produced her fair share of special days at Cheltenham over the last few years, but Blackmore riding Honeysuckle to victory at this year’s festival, in the mare’s final race, will live long in the memory.
April: Thammy Nguyan (Weightlifting). Nguyan made history in Armenia by becoming the first Irish competitor to win a senior medal in the European Weightlifting Championships. She’s now targeting a place in next year’s Olympic Games.