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Dardis in sevens heaven as Ireland reach first Olympics

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The Ireland team celebrate a late try by Harry McNulty and beating France in the final and qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on day three of the World Rugby Sevens Repechage at the Stade Louis II in Monaco. Photo: Giorgio Perottino - World Rugby via Sportsfile

The Ireland team celebrate a late try by Harry McNulty and beating France in the final and qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on day three of the World Rugby Sevens Repechage at the Stade Louis II in Monaco. Photo: Giorgio Perottino - World Rugby via Sportsfile

The Ireland team celebrate a late try by Harry McNulty and beating France in the final and qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on day three of the World Rugby Sevens Repechage at the Stade Louis II in Monaco. Photo: Giorgio Perottino - World Rugby via Sportsfile

A stunned silence fell over the shocked home crowd. Down on the pitch, the jubilant Irish celebrations had only just begun and in the middle of it all, Billy Dardis somehow found the right words to perfectly sum up what has been a remarkable journey for this Ireland sevens team.

To put their qualification for this summer’s Olympics into context, it’s important to remember that up until a few years ago, there was no sevens programme in Ireland.

Following the announcement that sevens would become an Olympic sport from 2016, the IRFU decided to relaunch the programme in 2014 and target qualification for the Games.

Dardis has been there from the very start of this journey, which began in the not-so-glamorous surrounds in the bottom tier of European sevens and ended in the blistering heat in Monaco, where an immense display from a hugely talented group of Irish players ensured that their Olympic dream will now become a reality.

For all that there has been a big turnover of players over the years, the likes of Dardis, Harry McNulty and Foster Horan have endured enough tough days to know just how far this team has come in the space of a few years.

Everything had been set up for France to succeed and take the one remaining Olympic spot.

Buoyed by playing in front of their own supporters, there was huge pressure on France to deliver and that played right into Ireland’s hands, as Anthony Eddy’s men happily went under the radar until they overturned the favourites in the final.

“Words can’t describe the feeling,” captain Dardis said.

“It’s just bizarre. You dream of doing something really special for your whole life. What we have done in just over a number of years is absolutely incredible.

“It’s weird what went on, on that pitch. I thought we were out of it for a while in the first half when they had so much possession.

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“They got in front and then we just got a few lucky bounces, I think that’s just sevens. A bounce of the ball goes your way and you can end up in the Olympics just like that.”

Dardis was being modest because Ireland were full value for their win. There was nothing lucky about the manner of their victory.

Sevens hasn’t exactly captured the imagination of the public in this country, but that may be about to change now that supporters can look forward to watching an Ireland rugby team competing at the Olympics.

For Dardis, who was released by the Leinster Academy in 2017, this is the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifices – most of which his team-mates have also had to go through.

“When I started about five years ago, we had a good enough team and we played in this tournament in 2016, we came over, I had only got my first cap about three weeks beforehand,” the 26-year-old recalled.

“We won our first day and I remember lying in bed that night thinking, ‘Jeez, we could do something really special here.’ And we didn’t, we lost.

“I stuck with the programme and each year, we just kept getting better. We started right at the bottom, some serious names, guys who have gone on to get international caps. Guys like Tom Daly, Adam Byrne, Shane Layden, Dan Goggin – guys who are incredible players, they contributed so much.

“Then we had another turnover with guys like Hugo Keenan, Shane Daly, Jimmy O’Brien, Rob Baloucoune and others. And then there is a core group of lads who stuck around and it has been tough trying to earn a lot of respect for ourselves.

“Everyone has been through hardships and tough times, especially in the last year or two.

“Guys in this squad have been in Academies and they have got let go. I think that’s the twisted tale of us all. We have come on and done something really incredible here. We have put ourselves on the map. We have put Irish sevens on the map.

“It’s going to do wonders for Irish sevens. For kids who are going to start playing rugby maybe after seeing us at the Olympics. It’s pretty cool. It’s really overwhelming, just how much this means to all of us.

“To be an Olympian, no one can take that away from you. You have that for life. That’s beside your name. When you’re 60 years old down in the pub – ‘That guy went to the Olympics.’ It’s really special.”


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