For Lucy Mulhall, captain of the Irish Rugby 7s and her team it was difficult looking on at the World Series this year and not to be part of it. Last weekend the team changed that situation and have qualified for the next World Rugby Series which will kick off later in the year in Dubai.
The team can now sit back and relax for a week or two and look forward to getting back into training with the World Series as their focus. With six tournaments over a six month period it will give the team the much needed experience of playing at the top level and ideal preparation for the Olympic Repechage which takes place in June 2016.
It was also a great opportunity for the Women’s 7s game to showcase itself in front of the Irish public at the weekend in Dublin, and it gave the players the opportunity to show off their skills especially to their friends and family. In their group game Ireland were on the losing side to South Africa, they found their physicality hard to beat but knew if they could match it on the Sunday in the semi final they were in with a chance. They did just that and came out on the right side of the result, guaranteeing Ireland a place in the World Series.
Lucy comes from a gaelic games background having played gaelic football for Wicklow but she has given it up for the game of rugby 7s which she has been playing for the last year and a half. It all started with an invite to a fitness test, not really knowing what it was all about and then getting selected for the development squad to play in the Amsterdam 7s. From there Lucy got called onto the senior squad and she hasn’t looked back. Anthony Eddy took over the mantle of coach at Christmas and has been working with the team since, giving the team time to gel together before the Dublin tournament.
When asked if she missed football, Lucy replied “I do, I miss the girls more than anything, I know at some stage of my life I will get back to playing GAA again. The girls at home are my football family but I have developed good friends through the rugby so I am happy where I am at the moment, but I do miss the girls and the craic in the dressing room. They have been all very supportive and most of them were up in UCD at the weekend.”
When asked about her role as captain Lucy said “The team are very well driven, everyone is so determined and focussed, it makes my job pretty easy. Being captain also drives you on at times and when the games are not going so well there is always someone there to step up to the mark, that’s just the way it is.”
What is life of a professional player like ? Some of the squad work part time in the morning and their afternoons are spent training together, five days a week.
“We all are studying or working to keep us well rounded and have something else going on but it is a huge opportunity for women in Ireland to train from Monday to Friday, it’s massive and we have huge support services around us in the program.”
Lucy is studying Radiation Therapy in Trinity but has deferred for two years to concentrate on her rugby. She did complete a course in Applied Pyschology this year and would like to do a Masters in Radiation Therapy following the completion of her degree.
While gaelic football is a very physical game, the physicality of rugby was something Lucy was unsure of.
“That was the big difference for me between the two sports when I first began. I didn’t neccessarily mind the hits but it was about developing that skill of tackling and rucking. I didn’t know how I would react to the contact but having developed the skills I can honestly say that I love it and you can’t beat anything but making a big tackle on the pitch.”
With the game running at 7 minutes a side it is a fast, intense game. From a spectators point of view it maybe considered too short but from a players point of view those 7 minutes are exhausting, you have 2 minutes to recover and then you go again. With three matches in one day for the players the game is long enough. Lucy also believes that once played at the Olympics, Rugby 7s will grow massively all over the world.
With many women’s sports the referees are often male, but rugby seems to have made a conscious effort to have women referee women. With the speed of Rugby 7s the referee is hugely reliant on the communications with the touch judges to have a good game.
With a mix of different sporting backgrounds like athletics, hockey, gaelic and rugby itself the twelve person team is picked from a current panel of 24. Claire Keohane, who formerly played gaelic, is now Ireland’s most capped 7s player. New personnel are being constantly brought in, creating a very competitive and focussed group. Over half of the 7s panel are members of the 15s team.
When asked about the coverage of women’s sport in Ireland Lucy said “I think it is getting better. From a GAA background, the women’s gaelic coverage could be improved on but from a women’s rugby aspect it has grown massively over the last couple of years. With the 15s doing phenomenally well with the Grand Slam and the World Cup, personalities like Niamh Briggs and Jenny Murphy are becoming household names, it’s brilliant to see women’s rugby getting to that level. We still have a bit of a way to go though.”
Whatever the case, Lucy is loving the life of a professional sports person and has to pinch herself every now and then. She is even considering taking up the 15s game this year ! Lucy feels really lucky with everything that she has at the moment and she looks forward to the year ahead.