Ireland sevens star Lucy Mulhall driven by wish ‘to inspire others’
Nine years she’s been in this game, but never has Lucy Mulhall been this close to the ultimate destination.
Amid all the talk of inadequate funding, flawed structures and claims of institutional apathy in Irish women’s rugby, it’s easy to claim it has reached rock bottom.
But to do so would overlook the giant strides made in the sevens game. In that realm, the Irish women are on the brink of Olympic qualification for the first time, with this weekend’s World Sevens Series in Toulouse throwing up a chance they’ve spent their careers chasing.
Ireland lie fifth in the qualification standings on 64 points, with Fiji (62) and Great Britain (60) just behind. With four automatic spots available in additions to hosts France (currently fourth), a strong showing this weekend would secure their spot at the Paris Games. Mulhall knows what message that would send to younger generations.
“The more we can create a larger exposure, the more we can entice young girls to play rugby,” says the 29-year-old. “All I want is for them to see rugby as an avenue to become a better person: to push themselves to their peak, to do amazing things like travel the world. It helped shape me as a person, so I want to inspire others to have similar experiences.”
Mulhall was part of the 15s squad for last year’s Six Nations but her sevens commitments ruled her out this year.
She was watching their slew of recent heavy defeats and says it’s “really hard on the players”, but adds “there’s plenty of good stuff going on; the more we focus on that, the better”.
In 2014, Mulhall was an inter-county footballer for Wicklow, studying at Trinity, when she got an email from an IRFU development officer asking if she’d be interested in trying out for the sevens squad.
She hadn’t a breeze about the sport, but made a swift transition, and has been there through the leanest of times since, with Olympic qualification bids in 2016 and 2021 falling short.
As such, she could better appreciate the breakthrough to win silver at the sevens series in Seville last January. The World Cup last September proved a different experience, with Ireland hammered 28-0 by New Zealand in the quarter-final, finishing seventh overall. The difference between those tournaments? How they handled the basics.
“Simple things done really well. We probably took our eye off the ball (in the World Cup) and didn’t play as well so that’s what we’ve been working on. We know when that comes together, we can be so dangerous.”
Mulhall went back to her roots after the World Cup, helping Tinahely to a Wicklow title and into the Leinster Ladies SFC final.
“Getting my head away from rugby was really good. (Gaelic football) is a lot about spatial awareness, evasion, footwork. There are a lot of transfers which helped me.”
Her family is steeped in Gaelic games. Her mother Helen helped set up the women’s club in Tinahely, while her father Pat was a long-time player, also winning a European Championship in tug of war. Pat experienced tragedy early in life, his brother Noel dying suddenly on the family farm at the age of 18.
Lucy grew up knowing how deep a scar that left in the family, and it’s why she’s an ambassador for CRY Ireland, a charity offering free counselling and screening services for families affected by sudden-death conditions.
“They’re supporting families through the toughest times,” she says.
Mulhall (above) hopes to raise awareness about the condition and encourage others to undergo screening.
“Yes, it might show up (risk) but then there’s always ways of managing and dealing with this.”
South Africa’s Allan Temple-Jones took over as the sevens head coach from Aiden McNulty earlier this year and, having been head of athletic performance from 2017-2021, he’s well known to players.
Mulhall knows they’ll have to step up from their poor showing at the recent Hong Kong Sevens to secure an Olympic berth, but she feels things are starting to click.
They’ll face Brazil in their final pool game this morning before the knockout stages get under way this afternoon, with Ireland defeating France 27-7 yesterday before losing to Australia 33-12. The tournament isn’t their last chance to qualify for the Paris Games, but it could well be their best chance.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to show off some really good rugby. For many years, we couldn’t dream of achieving what we have last season and this season, so it’s about getting the job done.”
Lucy Mulhall is a CRY Ireland ambassador who is working with the charity to encourage people to participate in the VHI 2023 Women’s Mini Marathon