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‘It’s All Eyes On Dubai, One Game At A Time’ – Burns

‘It’s All Eyes On Dubai, One Game At A Time’ – Burns

‘It’s All Eyes On Dubai, One Game At A Time’ – Burns

Offaly ace Megan Burns is determined to make a strong start to the HSBC SVNS Series in Dubai ©INPHO/Tom Maher

Having made her World Series debut shortly after her 19th birthday, the last four years have seen Megan Burns build herself into an established member of the Ireland squad and a fast-breaking attacker on the global circuit.

The revamped HSBC SVNS season has its traditional kick-off in the desert heat of Dubai this weekend, the first of two back-to-back tournaments for both the Ireland Men’s and Women’s Sevens teams (sponsored by TritonLake) before Christmas.

It is the start of a busy schedule for both squads as they compete at eight stops across the continents, culminating in the newly-created grand final in Madrid, in preparation for the Olympics in Paris next summer.

Coached by Allan Temple-Jones, the Ireland Women will face Australia, last year’s Dubai 7s champions, Japan and Brazil in Pool B at The Sevens Stadium complex on Saturday.

It is a mostly settled Ireland side, backboned by captain Lucy Mulhall, Stacey Flood and record try scorer Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe. Aoibheann Reilly is in line for her World Series return following a cruciate knee ligament injury.

Burns was heavily involved in a number of sports growing up in Offaly, but it was rugby where she really flourished. She took it up at Tullamore RFC at Under-15 level, before starring for Sacred Heart Tullamore in the IRFU X7s competition (pictured below).

“I was always into everything under the sun. I played a lot of hockey, I had Leinster trials. I did horse riding, I did ballet,” explained the 23-year-old.

“Funnily enough, I went from hockey to rugby to ballet so trying to get the muck off my knees, my ballet teacher wasn’t too impressed! I loved all sport growing up, everyone was trying to get me playing football and soccer and everything.”

She credits Mulhall for being a big influence on her, helping her decide to pursue a career in Sevens. They first crossed paths in 2017 when Mulhall coached Burns and her Ireland U-18 team-mates at the UK School Games and Rugby Europe U-18 Championship.

“I think I fell in love with rugby. I fell in love with Sevens particularly when I played in France (at the U-18 European Championship) and Lucy was our coach.

“I realised, ‘wow, I’m just in awe of her’. She’s the player I want to be. She’s the person I want to be more so, rather than even the player. That’s where it kicked off for me.”

A proud product of Tullamore Rugby Club, Burns has been part of a Women’s rugby revolution at Spollanstown with the likes of Nichola Fryday, Ailsa Hughes, Shannon Touhey and Leah Tarpey all going on to play 15s international rugby.

Jordan Conroy is a star winger for the Ireland Men on the Sevens Series, and Munster Academy prop Ronan Foxe is another Tulliers graduate, playing his part in the Ireland Under-20s winning World Championship silver in the summer.

Megan’s own father, Johnny, has done sterling work as a Tullamore RFC stalwart and is a former head coach of their senior men’s team. He is still involved in the youths set-up at the midlands club.

“I’m not sure how we’ve gotten a good few of the girls and a few lads coming through the programmes. There’s a great set-up in Tullamore, that’s where I started my Women’s rugby.

Like in here (at the Ireland Sevens base), there’s a great bond and a great culture in Tullamore. The teams always come together for Christmas parties, things like that. The love for the game is there in Tullamore, maybe that’s the key.

“My dad has done a lot of coaching, he has coached the senior men’s team previously and he’s now coaching my younger brother so yeah, it’s great to have him involved.

“He takes pride in getting me this far. He works with schools (as a Club Community Rugby Officer) for Leinster. He sees how great this programme has been for me and he’ll tell all the young girls and lads that I’m his daughter, and (to) get up to the club.”

Burns, who is a qualified physiotherapist, works on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings in a local private practice. Like many involved in the Ireland Men’s and Women’s Sevens squads, she is juggling her work life alongside her full-time commitments with the Sevens programme.

Her goal for 2024 is to make the final squad for the Olympics when the plane leaves for Paris next July. She knows the girls in green must take it one step at a time, with eight valuable rounds of SVNS Series action coming up before that.

“I missed out on the last Olympics and other players have missed out on two Olympics. To have already qualified through the series is massive motivation going forward.

“Yes, it will always be on our mind but we need to park it and take one job at a time. For us it’s all eyes on Dubai. one game at a time. We’re quite process driven.”

Attached in recent years to Blackrock College, the reigning Energia All-Ireland League champions, she also outlined her personal targets and those of the collective Ireland group for the upcoming campaign.

“Different things I would look at are around how could I be one of the best playmakers on the series? Another area would be contact. How can I be as physical as I can be? How can I get really low on those chop tackles? I’m looking at my aerial skills as well.

“We also have our goals for the year for the team. Last year we were top five in every tournament, we were really pushing for those medals, and the year before top four.

“So, this is our year to go hell for leather and really push for top three and hopefully a podium finish.”

Taking over the coaching reins from Aiden McNulty last March, Temple-Jones oversaw the Ireland Women’s eventual qualification for the Olympics on that historic day in Toulouse. Burns is hoping for more milestone achievements in the near future.

“Allan was our S&C a few years ago. He’s brough new insights, new ideas to us. He’s very much focused on our core four.

“Can we do our catch-pass to the best of our ability? What’s our breakdown like? What are we like in the tackle area? Focusing on those can allow you to play more and create opportunities and take those opportunities,” she added.