‘I am so proud to be part of women’s rugby in Ireland’ – Beibhinn Parsons on Olympic qualification

Beibhinn Parsons has dreamed of being an Olympian since she was a child© SPORTSFILE

Cian Tracey

Last November, at the IRFU’s high-performance centre, we sat down for a chat with Beibhinn Parsons between training sessions.

During an engaging conversation with one of the biggest stars of Irish women’s rugby, Parsons vividly recalled how, during a school exercise, she had written down ‘To become an Olympian’ as her ultimate goal.

There was nothing particularly unusual about that, except Parsons wasn’t heavily involved in athletics, so while she knew she wanted to compete at the Olympics, she didn’t exactly know what route could take her there. Yesterday, in front of her family and friends at Toulouse’ Stade Ernest Wallon, Parsons took a giant step towards making her dream a reality, as Ireland dramatically booked their place at next year’s Paris Olympics – following in the footsteps of their male counterparts who made it to Tokyo in 2021.

Two tries from Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, another sevens sensation, helped Ireland beat Fiji 10-5 and secure the fourth and final automatic qualification spot.

Afterwards, Parsons’ mother Evelyn, who was alongside father Vincent, brother Jack and sister Sally, reminded her how far she has come since she jotted down her Olympic dream in school.

“It was the first thing my mam said to me when I saw her at the barrier after we won that game to qualify,” Parsons told Independent.ie, struggling to hold back the tears.

“At that point, when I wrote it down in school, I didn’t even know what I’d be going to the Olympics for, but going for rugby sevens for Ireland, it’s huge for women’s rugby in Ireland, huge for women’s sport in general. It’s just a dream come true.

“I can’t even put it into words, what it feels like. This team has worked so hard for so long. I’m one of the lucky ones who gets to jump on the bandwagon when we have had our glory days. It just means the world. All our families, all our friends flew over to see us. There are so many people behind us.

“For me, it was just complete disbelief. We were surrounded by our families, I kept having to remind myself that this isn’t a dream. It’s actually reality. It’s a day that all of us said we will never forget for the rest of our lives. It’s a moment that I keep replaying over and over already.”

Following the disappointment of the Six Nations ‘Wooden Spoon’, Ireland’s sevens success has come as a massive boost to women’s rugby in the country. Parsons, who didn’t feature in the 15s tournament in a bid to qualify for the Olympics, was immensely proud of playing her part in making it to Paris 2024.

“It’s not relief, it’s pride,” the 21-year-old Ballinasloe native insisted. “I am so proud to be part of this team. I am so proud to be a part of women’s rugby in Ireland, being a part of women’s sport in Ireland. I’m bursting with pride to be part of this team. This is massive for women’s rugby in Ireland. By hook or by crook, we wanted to put sevens rugby on the map, and I think we have.

“It’s going to give women’s rugby such a lift in Ireland. The girls playing 15s are such a pride to this nation, and we are as well.

“It’s not one versus the other. We are a team together. We are women playing rugby for Ireland together.

“It’s not a case of it being sweeter. I’m just so happy to be playing on either team. This was obviously our huge goal for sevens and I’m so glad it has come true.

“We started off the season so well and we had high expectations. We had a bit of a dip, but then after Hong Kong, we all just rallied together and said, ‘Here, we have got three shots and we don’t need to make this a pressurised event, we can go out and enjoy it’. We tried to take some of the pressure off and that worked for us in the end.”

The Ireland squad will return to Dublin Airport this afternoon and can expect a warm reception on the back of their historic achievement.

As much as the players will savour the coming days, their attention will soon turn to Paris, where the squad will hope to create more history by winning a medal.

“Now we have the luxury of having a full year to prepare for it and milk every single moment, really enjoy it,” Parsons added.

“This isn’t a last-ditch raid, we had it planned out to a tee, and we definitely want to go out now and win a medal.”