Love Ireland pips Love Island as Greg O’Shea realises Olympic dream

‘You can always make money. You can’t make memories’

Greg O’Shea during an Ireland Sevens gym  session at the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Greg O’Shea during an Ireland Sevens gym session at the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

 

It took a leap of faith. But Greg O’Shea left a red carpet, roped off world of glossy splashes and tabloid attention to “do the country proud” with his mates. That simple. Stud muffin to serious Olympic athlete.

It almost came apart but the Ireland Sevens rugby team and the Tokyo Olympics could make the Limerick player’s choice to leave a parallel universe and a career in the UK as a Love Island winner one of the best he ever made.

“I can be happy in my decision and it nearly didn’t work out for me and I was going to look very silly,” says O’Shea. “But look I’m glad it paid off in the end.

“You’d kind of presume that it was a difficult choice but to be honest with you – I presume you’re talking about the whole Love Island thing – even going into that show, I just knew what my decision was going to be.

“We’d been working too hard here in the Sevens programme for the last five or six years. I couldn’t just throw it all away because I got too big for my boots and decided to move to the UK and become a celebrity. I had to come back here, put my hand up and try to get into the team. I’ve made it thank God so I can be happy with my decision.”

The Irish fullback and wing, more famous for his television relationship with Amber, his co-winner of the reality TV show, than his rugby, didn’t get coach Anthony Eddy’s vote for the final Olympic qualification tournament in Monaco last month.

Just one team from the tournament could qualify with hosts France favourites to take the place. But when Gavin Mullin was ruled out with injury, O’Shea was called into Eddy’s squad. With Ireland winning the event to qualify for Tokyo, the 26-year-old held his place and again, as it were, got the girl in the end.

Love Island winners Greg O’Shea and Amber Gill seen on a night out at The Ivy Soho Brasserie in London in August 2019. Photograph: Ricky Vigil/GC Images
Love Island winners Greg O’Shea and Amber Gill seen on a night out at The Ivy Soho Brasserie in London in August 2019. Photograph: Ricky Vigil/GC Images

“Aw man, it’s been an emotional rollercoaster,” he says. “I wasn’t initially picked for Monaco which was fair enough. I hadn’t really been training. I wasn’t at peak performance.

“Then a couple of injuries happened, I got in and I started most of the games and played most of the minutes in Monaco and then I got picked for Tokyo and it’s just been a whirlwind of emotion. But I’ve just got to stay grounded and do my bit for the team and hopefully I’ll play a lot in Tokyo.”

O’Shea ended up on the television show by chance when a stranger sent a direct message on Twitter. Because it was a verified account, he got back and a celebrity star was born.

But the Crescent College and Shannon player always had pace and had been fast enough to compete for Ireland at the 2011 European Youth Olympics in the 100m, where he finished sixth. His father Niall O’Shea and mother Carol O’Shea (née Ho) were both sprinters for Ireland.

Unable to hold down a place in the Munster squad in the 15s version of the game, he left their academy and in 2017 took his speed to Sevens rugby, where it was much more appreciated.

“You can always make money. You can’t make memories,” he says. “We’ve such a crew of lads here. We’re all best mates. We hang out outside the rugby as well.

“I’ve been lucky enough, I went to a Youth Olympics as a sprinter. I did the 100m and I’ve kind of had both sides of it. To be honest I picked the rugby side because, well my family are big rugby heads

“Don’t get me wrong. I’ve taken my opportunities in and around that [Love Island] and maybe post my rugby career I’ll try and capitalise on it and see what’s going on. But for the moment we’re trying to do the country proud in Tokyo.”

It is the first Irish team to have qualified for Sevens rugby, which was introduced to the Olympics five years ago in Rio.

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