The current Ireland Men’s Sevens side did not exist until 2014 but by 2021 are already an Olympic-level sevens side.
They were created with the Olympics in mind after it was announced that the sport would become an Olympic sport in Rio in 2016.
The project only gained steam in 2014 after the announcement in 2009 with the men’s sevens program introduced in October of that year.
It’s first Director of Rugby was announced in December – New Zealander Anthony Eddy, who is still there today.
The IRFU then scouted talents from Ireland who were interested in joining the program and recruited those that they took a liking to.
The 27-man squad announced in May 2015 became known as ‘The Originals’ and included British and Irish Lion Tadhg Beirne was part of the squad alongside Connacht star Alex Wootton.
🦁 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗜𝗿𝗶𝘀𝗵 𝗟𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀 🟢
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) May 6, 2021
Other players have stayed in the program – Terry Kennedy is still the star fullback for the side and has a fantastic link with winger Jordan Conroy.
Ireland Men’s Sevens’ most-capped player of all-time Harry McNulty is an original and Foster Horan has been there from the start as well as Ian Fitzpatrick and Mark Roche.
The side started out in Rugby Europe’s Division C, playing against the likes of Liechtenstein and San Marino.
The team climbed up the ranks over time and took part in the 2015 Rugby Europe Olympic Sevens Repechage tournament where they finished third and earned a spot in the 2016 Monaco Repechage.
A spot at the inaugural Olympic Sevens tournament was up for grabs.
However, they fell short in the knockout stages but have grown exponentially since then.
Players that have shaped the core of the 2020 side became important members of the team as the side grew.
Current captain Billy Dardis became a part of the squad prior to the Olympic qualification disappointment and Jordan Conroy made notable contributions in 2017.
The aforementioned originals that are still a part of the squad began to develop chemistry with the players coming, having already bonded themselves.
Their win in Moscow marked the first tournament win for the program and underlined the progress those working on it had made since its inception.
A win over Spain in the final was a perfect example of this, after their loss to Spain in Monaco the year previous.
2018 and 2019 saw the side take part in the two final events on the 2018-19 World Rugby Sevens Series and finish sixth in the 2018 Rugby Sevens World Cup in their first appearance at the tournament.
Their impressive season saw them earn the ‘core team’ status for the 2019-20 season after their performance at the Hong Kong Sevens qualifier.
At the time, they were impressing neutrals with their energy and individual qualities.
Jordan Conroy was blazing a trail that he is still on with his blistering pace helping him to get past defences with ease.
Dardis and Harry McNulty were leaders in the side and led by example with their work-rates always at a high level.
However, the side were knocked out of the semi-finals of the 2019 Rugby Europe Sevens Olympic Qualifying tournament after a loss to France.
The loss left them with one final chance – the 2020 Monaco Repechage.
They had to succeed where they had fallen several years prior.
Before they could, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the world and Sevens as a sport was put on pause.
The players, who had grown as a team together, were now separated against their will and forced to work by themselves.
The period of time spent in lockdown was a struggle for several in the side but they pulled through and were back together in 2021 with a shared goal in mind – becoming Olympians.
They trained hard and the team named for the tournament was filled with players who were familiar with each other.
Harry McNulty, who had left Ireland to join Major League Rugby side LA Giltinis was part of the 14-man squad.
His club allowed him to return temporarily to chase the Olympic dream that he had wanted to make a reality for so long.
The team had developed a wonderful rhythm that they unleashed in Monaco.
On the first day, Zimbabwe, Mexico and Tonga were beaten convincingly by the Irish with the telekinetic duo of Terry Kennedy and Jordan Conroy nabbing 14 tries between themselves and providing some easy-on-the-eye moments.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) June 21, 2021
The side breezed past Samoa in the final pool game to qualify for the semi-finals as pool winners.
At the end of the day, they were in the final, one step from the promised land.
Ireland started the better of the two sides with Jordan Conroy making his presence known immediately.
However, Stephan Parez helped a France side looking for their second successive Olympic appearance get back into the game and Les Bleus led at the break.
A quickfire double courtesy of some Conroy-Kennedy magic swung momentum back in Ireland’s favour.
Originals member Harry McNulty sealed the deal after Dardis regained possession and passed to the veteran,who dotted down across the line.
A late France try served only to cushion the hurt of missing out on Olympic qualification, but for the Irish, the dream became a reality.
For Anthony Eddy, Harry McNulty and many others, it was the reward of years of hard work in the program.
They will forever be known as Ireland’s first Olympic rugby team.
That achievement is nothing short of what they deserve.
The Ireland Men’s Sevens side will take part in the Olympics Sevens tournament from July 26th – July 28th.