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Balancing Rugby And Education – Billy Dardis’ Drive For Excellence

Balancing Rugby And Education – Billy Dardis’ Drive For Excellence

Ireland Men's Sevens captain Billy Dardis is studying for a Masters degree in Management Consultancy. ©INPHO/Oisin Keniry

Life on Tour isn’t always as glamorous as the highlights reel will suggest. Time spent on the road and away from home can present different challenges for different players. Living out of a suitcase is in the job description, particularly for the Ireland Sevens squads on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, but the art of time management must be an acquired skill.

Visit Billy Dardis‘ hotel room in any given city around the world and any free minute is spent catching up on college assignments or emails. Packing the laptop is as important as anything when you’re travelling mid-semester. Ditto for half a dozen of the Ireland Men’s and Women’s players, who balance their rugby careers with academic studies, much of which is done remotely from thousands of miles from a lecture hall.

In the Men’s squad, Jack Kelly has recently completed his final year of Law from Trinity College, Adam Leavy graduated from NUI Galway with an Economics degree at the start of the 2020/21 season and Emily Lane and Katie Heffernan are among the players in the Women’s Sevens panel currently studying in UCD and Technological University of Dublin respectively.

Dardis, the Ireland Men’s Sevens captain, knows no different. During his time with the Leinster Academy and Ireland Under-20s, the 25-year-old studied Health and Performance Science in UCD and while he has reached rarefied heights in the green jersey, education has always been a constant throughout Dardis’ rugby career, from Terenure College to the international stage.

Having graduated from UCD in 2018, Dardis continued to develop himself professionally, expand his portfolio and add layers of knowledge and experience to his CV by branching into business and accounting by completing a 12-week Diploma in Finance from Griffith College, setting him up for a return to UCD and a Masters in Management Consultancy from the Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School.

Although he was preparing to make history and lead Ireland Men into their maiden World Series season, Dardis – who has won 26 Ireland Sevens caps – embarked on his Masters journey last September, and with the assistance of the IRFU, Rugby Players Ireland and UCD will complete the course over two years.

In one way, Lockdown has been good to Dardis as the extended time at home and away from the demanding training and playing schedule has offered him the chance to catch up on college work. Any lingering disappointment over the postponement of World Series tournaments in Hong Kong, Singapore, London and Paris, as well as the Olympic qualifying tournament scheduled for last week, has been offset by the opportunity to put the head down and work hard.

“I handed in my final assignment for the second semester a couple of weeks ago and we recently completed an intensive two-week Project Management module so I have also been using the time to breath and relax a little,” Dardis tells IrishRugby.ie.

Billy Dardis

“I’ve also taken this window to get on top of other bits like my CV and my LinkedIn page, as well as exploring a number of different webinars that will benefit my studies.”

With the cancellation of next month’s Olympics due to the Covid-19 pandemic, thus putting on hold Ireland’s ambitions of making history and reaching Tokyo for another year, Dardis – not one to rest on his laurels – has taken up the option of an internship this summer and recently started as a People and Strategy Intern with BearingPoint Ireland.

He explains: “The final part of my Masters is a summer module consisting of either a research paper, a company project of an internship in a consulting firm. As a part-time student, the plan was to complete this in the summer of 2021, which worked out perfectly with our match schedule but due to the rescheduling of the Olympics, this changed the plan.

“At late notice, I was very fortunate to be offered an opportunity with BearingPoint and they have been fantastic in accommodating me in challenging circumstances, sending out a laptop and all the necessary equipment to my house and I’ve been able to get started remotely. So far I’ve had the chance to meet and work with some great people and I’m really looking forward to working on some exciting projects this summer.”

As the Ireland Sevens squads continue to follow tailored training programmes from home, Dardis’ working day begins at 6.30am so he can squeeze in a training session before sitting down at his desk for 9am. Having always balanced his studies with rugby, the out-half is no stranger to a busy schedule and is relishing the challenges associated with branching out into the professional workplace and up-skilling himself.

It is clear through his diligence and unwavering work-ethic that Dardis is just as motivated and driven to achieve excellence in his professional career than he has been throughout his time in the green jersey, during which he has captained Ireland at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco and played a key role in the team’s remarkable elevation to the World Series under the guidance of Anthony Eddy.

While it is not always the case with young players, the education seed was planted in Dardis’ head from early in his rugby career and he has remained cognisant of the value of combining the two, as is always evident in the manner in which he represents the team, both on the pitch, in media settings and indeed in community and social activities.

“As I matured, I began to realise how important it was to set yourself up for when rugby does come to an end so that you can make that transition smoother and equip yourself with the tools to attain a good job, a job that you enjoy and one that will give you the life you dream about,” he says.

Billy Dardis

“I developed a drive to work as hard as I could off the pitch as I did on it. The two now go hand in hand, it helps me to focus, gives structure to my day (especially in the current climate) and if ever I find myself lacking motivation or discipline to get work done, I just remind myself of the benefits of attaining a really high-quality qualification and the places I’d like to work one day.

“They really complement each other, the skills that you learn in rugby are very beneficial in academic and working environments. Similarly, the knowledge attained in college and in certain modules I have in my Masters are extremely valuable in my views and approaches to leadership and life as a rugby player.”

Communication, organisation and professionalism are key tenets of success for Dardis. Both in his studies and in rugby.

“Managing it all is a challenge but if you plan well in advance, communicate transparently and appropriately with all involved it runs very smoothly,” he continues. “I’ll usually sit down with Anthony and fill him in on my college demands and then my lecturers to lay out a plan and explain why I might miss a class here or there. Smurfit have been incredible in supporting me so far, the lecturers in there are top class and support you so that you have the opportunity to do well.

“The IRFU and provinces are very supportive of players’ off-field education and the Sevens set-up is no different. Most of the players in the squad are either studying for a Degree or Masters or else pursuing further education or part-time work. Our schedule was decided last year so that we have time to get to college or work in an effort to accommodate everyone. Anthony is always happy to sit down and chat about any off-field demands and is more than willing to accommodate us during exams and make sure they are ticking all the boxes.

“The IRFU have also been very generous and supportive to me in aiding me with company projects and advice and I recently completed a company project in line with the IRFU and it was a great experience, while Rugby Players Ireland and Dr Vinny O’Flaherty couldn’t be more helpful and supportive.”

With his days busy with training, finishing college assignments and a summer internship, Dardis has enough on his plate to occupy the mind over the coming months but thoughts never stray far from the ultimate goal of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

“I haven’t looked too far past completing my Masters and getting to the Olympics,” he adds. “In regard to learning, I’ll probably continue to learn and study for my whole life, it may not be for a qualification or piece of paper but it’s important to keep improving and growing, both on and off the pitch.”