Excitement builds at Abbotstown as Ireland’s Sevens Teams prepare for Olympic triumph


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The IRFU’s high performance centre in Abbotstown saw a flurry of activity last week, with Ireland’s Sevens teams receiving news that would shape their futures. After months of anticipation, the formalities of Olympic squad selection were carried out, leaving the players to focus on their training.

A diverse set of emotions surfaced during the press event involving the two coaches and certain team members in Paris.

The Sevens programme, under the watchful eye of former IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora, has been a significant investment for Irish rugby. With the men’s and women’s teams both capable of medal-winning performances, the stakes are high in Paris this summer.

The men’s tournament will take place on 24, 25, and 27 July, while the women’s event is scheduled for 28, 29, and 30 July. All the effort invested in the program would be amplified by nothing more than Olympic glory, significantly elevating the profile of Sevens in the country.

Men’s head coach, James Topping, shared his excitement about the upcoming Olympics, acknowledging the media attention coming their way. Topping also expressed pride in his squad, which had finished second in the SVNS table this season and boasted former Sevens stars like Keenan and Andrew Smith.

With only 12 players allowed per squad for Paris, Keenan and Smith’s return put pressure on the selection process.  Leinster fullback Keenan represented the Ireland Sevens from 2017 to 2019, while Smith joined the Sevens program in 2021 before moving to Connacht last summer. Both players will bring quality and experience to the team but also pose a risk of disrupting the squad that had worked hard to secure their Olympic qualification.

Topping addressed these concerns, acknowledging the potential for pushback from some players but ultimately choosing to give Keenan and Smith a chance.

“I had no doubt around the attitude and the competence of those two players in playing Sevens, but my concern was there had been guys going well this year, we’d made every quarter-final, past that, in the World Series and got lots of medals this year. No golds, unfortunately,” he stated.

Preparing for the Olympic stage

Discussions with Keenan commenced prior to the current season following Nucifora’s approval for a single representative from each region to participate in the Sevens team training.

After Leinster lost in the Champions Cup final, Keenan quickly made travel arrangements to catch a 6 a.m. flight back to Dublin and then proceeded to Madrid for the World Series event.

The women’s squad also underwent a rigorous selection process, ultimately leading to tough decisions and heartbreak for players like Vikki Wall. Despite her disappointment at missing out on Paris, Wall remains integral to the women’s Sevens programme and will continue training in Abbotstown.

Allan Temple-Jones, head coach of the women’s squad, endorses Topping’s positive outlook concerning their Olympic chances.

In January, the women’s squad achieved a milestone with their first series leg win in Perth, but they encountered difficulties sustaining that success. Nonetheless, there is a hopeful outlook as they prepare to make history as Ireland’s first women’s Sevens team to compete in the Olympics.

Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Stacey Flood, Béibhinn Parsons, and Eve Higgins are pivotal figures in the squad, with Lucy Rock (formerly Mulhall) leading as captain.

With only a few weeks left until the Olympics, the teams are in their final stages of preparation and training. After years of dedication and hard work, the dream of Olympic glory is within reach for both the men’s and women’s Sevens squads.

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