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McNulty: We Have Both Teams Going To Paris – It’s Fantastic

McNulty: We Have Both Teams Going To Paris – It’s Fantastic

McNulty: We Have Both Teams Going To Paris – It’s Fantastic

Harry McNulty and Liam McNamara celebrate Ireland's European Games gold and their qualification for the 2024 Olympics ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

The celebrations in Krakow meant that bit more to Harry McNulty, knowing that both the Ireland Men’s and Women’s Sevens teams have qualified for the Olympics a full year out from the Paris Games.

McNulty captained the Ireland Men to a memorable 26-12 Cup final win over Great Britain, which secured the nation’s first gold medal of the 2023 European Games and booked that all-important ticket to the Olympics.

A second half double from Jordan Conroy made it a dozen straight wins this month for James Topping’s talented squad – they also went unbeaten when winning the first leg of the Rugby Europe Sevens Championship Series in the Algarve.

Following up on the Ireland Women’s historic Olympic qualification in May, this latest success in Poland also completes a rewarding 13 months for the Men’s squad, during which they won a Rugby World Cup bronze medal and two World Series silvers.

Asked about what it means to reach a second successive Olympics, McNulty admitted: “I can’t put it into words. Just the effort from everybody involved – team-mates, backroom staff, all the lads at home that didn’t get the opportunity to come over and play here, the travelling support.

“I think there was nearly more Irish than Polish here at one stage! It’s fantastic (to qualify for Paris 2024), it’s something that we’ve been working on for so long.

“Basically the last two seasons have merged into one because Covid pushed a couple of tournaments so it’s been like a way, way longer season than we’re usually used to.

We just had to keep digging in and keep working hard for each other, and to get the result is fantastic. It means the men and the women are both going to Paris with a full year run at it.

“First time we’re both going to the Olympic Games together, it’s fantastic. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it! For both sides of the programme I couldn’t be more happy! I’m delighted.”

One of the famed ‘originals’ having made his debut back in 2015, McNulty, a real driving force in the forwards, knows how difficult it is to reach the Olympics having tried three times.

An inexperienced Ireland fell short at the global repechage tournament in 2016, before famously winning the 2021 repechage in Monaco after a couple of years as a World Series core team.

They qualified at the expense of both Samoa and France back then, but their failure to get out of their pool in Tokyo, coupled with an eventual 10th place finish, left them disappointed that they had not played to their full potential.

Fuelled by the desire to push on and make sure they are in peak form come Paris next summer, McNulty says it is literally a dream come true to lead the team back into the Olympic arena.

“The Sevens is an extremely difficult way to qualify for the Olympics. If you don’t qualify through the main season, you go through the regionals,” explained the 30-year-old.

“If you break down the regions currently, you would probably say that Europe is the toughest. You’ve got so many strong teams across the board, there’s upsets going left and right both in the men’s and women’s competitions. So it was never going to be easy.

“It’s funny, when I wake up I never really remember a dream, it’s just a blackout. Six or ten times this year I’ve had a dream and each time it was about winning these (European) Games, and I’m dead serious when I say that.

“I have been dreaming that for the last six months to a year in the lead up to this, so I’m glad it’s now a reality.”

Ireland saved their best for the knockout rounds in Krakow, overcoming Belgium (26-12), Portugal (24-0) and close rivals Britain. They scored 31 tries across the three days – Conroy touched down six times – and their defence only leaked six scores.

With their growing experience of high-stakes play-off games on the World Series and elsewhere, McNulty felt calm and quietly confident of his side’s capabilities heading into the Olympic qualifier’s decider.

“We built really well through the tournament, which is great because we didn’t want to hit our straps in the first game. You want to be able to build and build and build because it’s going to get tougher and tougher.

“You have to make sure you’re hitting it perfectly when you come to the last game. We had two really tough games in the quarter and the semi, but whatever way we played, we got really close and fought for each other.

“It just made those results feel really good and you got a lot of confidence from them. So then, coming into the final, we were able to take so much from it.

“Going out warming up before the game was probably the calmest I was all week. Can’t say I didn’t have any nerves, but I just felt so solid mentally, physically, and just with everybody around me.

“I just knew what everybody was capable of doing, and if we did our best, I knew what we were going to come away with.”

Tears were shed when the former Munster Academy player embraced his parents, Aidan and Sandra, in the stand, and he paid tribute to the vocal Ireland fans, and the vision and influence of IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora, as the celebrations began in earnest.

“I thought I was going to keep it together, but as soon as I saw my mum and dad I started crying, bawling my eyes out! They’ve been such an amazing support for myself, for the team as well.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of this team since the day it was organised. When David Nucifora came into the programme, he set it up. None of this would have been possible without him.

“The sea of green and the voices coming from the crowd were just amazing, and that’s why the Irish always have the best support. It’s just fantastic,” he added.