After the 2021 Irish women’s rugby endured, both on and off the pitch, few sports were more in need of a pick-me-up come the new year. And that’s precisely what it got through the Irish Sevens team when they reached their first ever HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series final in Seville.
That the team was left feeling shattered by ‘only’ winning silver was a measure of the levels they reached through the tournament, during which they beat Poland (14-10), Brazil (29-12), Russia (21-14) and Canada (36-12) before that memorable 29-0 victory over England in the semi-finals.
And then they were two minutes away from beating Australia in the final, leading 12-5, before the world number one side broke their hearts with two late tries, the second coming deep in to injury-time.
Come full-time, then, captain Lucy Mulhall didn't have the look of a woman who had led Ireland to their finest ever run in the series. "I never thought I'd be disappointed walking away with a silver medal, but I was massively disappointed and still am," she said later.
But once that dust settled, the Wicklow woman was able to reflect on the team’s most encouraging run of displays since she joined the Sevens set-up eight years ago. A decent sporting pedigree she brought with her too having been a prolific full forward for her county’s Gaelic football team, top scoring for them in their 2011 Junior All-Ireland victory over New York.
Since switching codes, though, Mulhall’s sole ambition has been to put this Sevens team on the map, and Seville was no small start, the 18 rankings points Ireland picked up lifting them to fifth in the world list.
There were several outstanding performers through the tournament, not least Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, top try scorer with nine, the ever impressive Beibhinn Parsons, Eve Higgins, Stacy Flood and teenager Erin King, one of several young players in this squad with bundles of talent.
But Mulhall led from the front, scoring three tries and kicking 13 conversions, her performances earning her a place on the tournament's 'Dream Team', along with Murphy Crowe and Higgins, and her form through the season putting her second only to Australia's Charlotte Caslick on the leading player list.
The team, now coached by Aiden McNulty, will be back in action at the penultimate leg of the World Series in Canada at the end of April before finishing up in France in May. The year’s chief target, though, will be qualification for September’s Rugby World Cup Sevens in South Africa which they will attempt to achieve via the Rugby Europe tournaments in the summer.
They’ll take on those challenges with a spring in their step after Seville.
Previous Monthly Winner
The awards run from December 2021 to November 2022, inclusive:
December: Ellen Walshe (Swimming). The 20-year-old Dubliner became the first Irish woman to medal at a World Championships and the first ever, male or female, to do so in an Olympic event when she took silver in the 400m individual medley at the World Short Course Championships in Abu Dhabi. Along the way, she broke five Irish records, smashing the longest standing one, Michelle Smith’s 1994 400m IM mark.