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Kennedy In Sevens Heaven After Olympic Qualification

Kennedy In Sevens Heaven After Olympic Qualification

Kennedy starred for Ireland in Monaco last weekend. ©INPHO/Manuel Blondeau

Terry Kennedy admitted it was a surreal feeling when the Ireland Men’s Sevens side finally secured their place at the forthcoming Olympic Games with victory in the World Rugby Repechage at Monaco.

Almost two years on from claiming third spot at a Rugby Europe Qualifier in Colomiers, Anthony Eddy’s charges knew they had to win last weekend’s tournament outright in order to earn a ticket to the Japanese capital. Having already accounted for five competing nations in Monaco, Ireland overcame a 12-7 interval deficit in their decider against France to eventually bag top honours on a final scoreline of 28-19.

Instrumental throughout the course of a hectic two days of action, Kennedy had broken the deadlock in the contest with an early try. An impressive French outfit came storming back into the reckoning, before Jordan Conroy (twice) and Harry McNulty touched down to offer Kennedy and his international colleagues everything their hearts desired.

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“We’ve worked for a long time towards this, but especially over the last 15 months or so with Covid hitting and all the tournaments being cancelled. It was quite tough and obviously we stuck together as a group and said we’d work towards this. For it all to pay off is incredible,” Kennedy explained.

“It was weird because you took it one game at a time and at the end of the game we were just speechless. We were like ‘what is going on? We’re actually going to be Olympians!’ It kind of felt like it was going against us a bit. We had defended so well and then for them to get over the line and score [their first try]. Then to score straight from the next kick-off.

“Eventually we got it back, but then we knocked it on before half-time. It was like ‘Jesus, maybe this isn’t our day, things are going against us’. At half-time, we just said to ourselves we were still fresh and we defended so well, and they looked out on their feet. We just said ‘if we just keep the ball and stick to what we’re good at, we’ll definitely get back in this game’.

“Jordan getting that try was huge for us. It pulled us ahead and even the try we got down the edge. People would miss out, but Billy [Dardis] getting the touchline kick to put us 21-12 up. That makes a huge difference.”

Although the bulk of the squad from that Colomiers qualifier were back in the saddle at the weekend, there were some notable absentees. Hugo Keenan and Shane Daly featured heavily in that tournament, before switching back to the 15s game on a full-time basis.

Both players have since gone on to earn provincial international recognition in rugby’s other code, while the likes of Will Connors, Robert Baloucoune and Tom Daly have made similar transitions from the Sevens programme. Seeing so many of his former team-mates thriving on the 15s stage makes Kennedy appreciate that Ireland’s triumph in Monaco was the culmination of several years of hard work rather than just a standalone success.

“100%. There have been really great guys that have come through the system. I think you can kind of see how much the Sevens does benefit them, in terms of how they’ve gone on to higher honours with the provincial sides and the international team.

“Everyone of them will say they loved playing it and we loved playing with them. I think they were definitely a big part of this journey and it all kind of culminated this weekend.”

Now that he is Tokyo-bound for next month (the Men’s Sevens action takes place from July 26-28), Kennedy is ready to make a big splash and show that Ireland won’t simply be there to enjoy the ride.

“We know that, when we do play well, we can take on anyone. I think we’ll play with a bit of freedom over there. Obviously it’s unbelievable us getting there. The pressure is off a bit. We’ll still put internal pressure on ourselves to do well and know that, if we do perform, we can definitely be pushing towards medals,” Kennedy added.