Ireland seek Paris Olympic berth at the European Games in Poland

World Sevens Player of the Year Terry Kennedy is back playing with Ireland after a sabbatical

In the final team announcement from the Olympic Federation of Ireland (OFI), 13 Rugby Sevens players have been named to travel to Krakow, Poland for the European Games, with the winner of the tournament gaining automatic qualification for the Paris Olympics next summer.

Last month the Irish women’s rugby team secured their Olympic berth for the first time with the men hoping to follow on from the last Olympic cycle when they qualified for Tokyo 2020. To have both Irish teams would be a first for rugby.

In all Ireland will field over 120 athletes across 17 sports with several of the competitions including rugby, badminton, canoe slalom and boxing acting as Olympic qualification events. World and Olympic champions Amy Broadhurst and Kellie Harrington are among the boxers taking part.

“The European Games are important on so many levels,” said Team Ireland chef de mission Gavin Noble. “They are important for Team Ireland, they are important for Sport Ireland and everything in between.

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“You have Olympic chances for boxing, 12 people can legitimately qualify their spot so the importance of that gets magnified as it is for rugby. They have one chance and if they get it done early – and I think they will – they are in a really good position.

“This Rugby team is one of our priority sports for Krakow. This is a brilliant opportunity for the team to qualify and judging from recent performances, we know that they are in great shape to achieve that.

The Sevens tournament will be played in the Henryk Reyman Stadium in Krakow, the same venue as the opening ceremony and offers a good opportunity for Ireland. The objective is to qualify directly or at least finish second or third and contest a later repechage. The team is also boosted by the inclusion of Terry Kennedy, who was named 2022 World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year.

Kennedy had taken a sabbatical in Australia for the current season, having been one of the key players in the Tokyo qualification pathway.

The former Ireland under-20 international spent two years with the Leinster academy as a 15s player but has been involved in the men’s Sevens programme from early in its evolution and moved full-time into the Sevens code after finishing up with his native province.

The pools for Poland have not yet been drawn but Ireland’s main rivals for the one place on offer are likely to be Great Britain, Spain and Georgia in the 12-team event.

“The boys are very honest as they didn’t get to where they wanted to go for Tokyo because of the late run in and inexperience,” added Noble.

“I could see it in the Village. But they know and they are a lot more professional now in their outlook. I’m really confident that they have sort of got the measure of GB, and I always thought it would come down to the two.

“I thought they have the measure of them this last six or eight matches. It’s not going to be easy. They have Georgia then and Spain and sometimes when you are the best team people work out how to play you.

“But I think with Terry coming back they’ve got variation in what they need to do. To go a whole season missing the World Player of the Year is hard, so having him come back at the right time is super crucial.”

Rugby Sevens was the final sport to be announced by Team Ireland for the Games, which run from the June 20th to July 2nd. Approximately 120 Irish athletes will participate in what is the third edition of the multi-sport event run by the European Olympic Committees.

Team Ireland Rugby Sevens squad

Andrew Smith (Clontarf/Leinster), Bryan Mollen (UCD), Dylan O’Grady (UCD), Gavin Mullin (UCD), Harry McNulty (UCD), Jack Kelly (Dublin University), Jordan Conroy (Buccaneers), Liam McNamara (IQ Rugby), Mark Roche (Lansdowne), Niall Comerford (UCD/Leinster), Terry Kennedy (St Mary’s College), Billy Dardis (Terenure College), Zac Ward (Ballynahinch).

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times