Irish Sevens teams targeting qualification for 2024 Olympics at Dubai World Series

Ireland women’s captain Lucy Mulhall reaping the benefits of switch to play Gaelic football with Tinahely

The freezing fog and wet pitch surface have driven the Ireland men’s and women’s Sevens teams to utilise the full-size indoor pitch in the IRFU’s bespoke facilities at the Sports High Performance Centre (HPC), a sensible solution especially as they are preparing for the desert heat of Dubai.

Ireland will have four squads in action – they fly out to Dubai on Monday – the men’s and women’s elite rosters that will compete in the World Series and two development groups, male and female, that will take part in their respective Invitational tournaments.

The hustle and bustle of training and the attendant noise levels are significantly down on the previous week when the facility hosted Andy Farrell’s enlarged squad ahead of the Australia Test match, Richie Murphy’s Ireland Under-20 training squad, James Topping’s Men’s Sevens squad, Aiden McNulty’s Women’s Sevens squad and their guests for the week, the French Women’s Sevens squad, along with coaches, medical and backroom teams; all training under the one roof so to speak.

The women’s Sevens squad have just completed a three-and-a-half-week intensive pre-season and are now tapering their focus in prepping for Dubai. A few, including Beibhinn Parsons and Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, who announced their presence by scoring five tries and six tries apiece in single matches, dipped their toes briefly in the All-Ireland League.


Irish captain Lucy Mulhall went back to her Gaelic football roots – she captained Wicklow to an All-Ireland junior football title in 2011 – when playing for her local club Tinahely with McNulty’s blessing. He revealed that there were a few terms and conditions, foremost of which was that Mulhall was not allowed to play more than half a game per match.

Tinahely won the Wicklow title and in the Leinster semi-final against Eadestown trailed by 2-6 to 0-5 at half-time when Mulhall was introduced as a substitute. She kicked five points in the second half in helping to inspire her team to a five-point win. Kilmacud Crokes brought an end to the fairytale in the final.

Mulhall, back to lead the Irish Sevens team on the World Series, cuts an unmistakable figure in the training match, footwork and acceleration leaving opponents clutching thin air. McNulty noticed that his captain benefited from her mini stint back in GAA, in terms of peripheral vision and strength in contact.

Last season the national women’s Sevens team finished a brilliant fourth in the World Series but suffered the disappointment of underperforming in the World Cup. Fit and focused the goal is to claim one of the automatic qualification places for the 2024 Paris Olympics that are available for the top four teams in the World Series.

McNulty is confident that the group can pursue those twin goals. The debrief from last season highlighted some areas upon which to improve. He said: “There were two parts to the review. We reviewed it internally as a staff and got some feedback from the girls.

“We then went through that process to basically say, ‘where did we make some growth? And where do we need to home in on? It took about two weeks. We aligned exactly what we wanted to get out of pre-season. We smashed that really.”

So what were the specifics? “One was the contact area. We have done a lot of looking at how we tackle and how we evade tackles and then what is the consequence and the reward of getting that right. The second part is our systems. How do we force teams to go where we want them to go?”

Irish qualified centre Wasps centre Molly Saunders has joined the Ireland Sevens programme having spent time recently with the England set-up. All four squads for Dubai are expected to be announced on Monday with the elite squads heading straight to Cape Town the week after for another World Series event.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer