Ireland’s men and women remain on course for Rio
By Daire Walsh
IT was an eventful weekend for the Irish men’s and women’s Sevens sides, who both booked their place in next year’s World Repechage Olympic qualifiers courtesy of top-three finishes in the European Repechage Tournament in Lisbon last weekend.
The Irish men (who included Kill’s Adam Byrne amongst their ranks) had secured the European Division B & Division C crowns in emphatic style, but they faced their toughest assignment of the year in the Portuguese capital on Saturday and Sunday.
Indeed, their winning run at sevens came to an end in the opening game of Pool A, when they finished on level terms (19-19) with an experienced Russian outfit. Steve Toal-Lennon, Shane Leyden and Harry McNulty all registered tries in this game, but despite coming under pressure in their second encounter on Saturday, five-pointers by Alex Wootton, Ian Fitzpatrick and Aaron Cairns helped them to register their opening victory of the tournament against Georgia (21-17).
This was a confidence-building triumph for Anthony Eddy’s charges, and with Byrne joining Wootton, Cairns, Terry Kennedy and Gearoid Lyons on the scoresheet for their final pool fixture against Italy (and with other results falling in their favour), Ireland emerged as table-toppers heading into the knockout stages.
They continued this fine form on Sunday, when tries by McNulty, Byrne and Roche ensured that Lithuania were defeated on a scoreline of 17-0 at the quarter-final stage, but with Russia also dispatching hosts Portugal with relative ease, a strong performance was needed if they were be successful in the final-four.
Byrne once again crossed the whitewash in their second game against Russia in as many days, but in spite of a second try from Lansdowne’s Ian Fitzpatrick, they were on the receiving end of a 24-10 defeat.
This was a set-back for the Wolfhounds, but following a hard-earned 15-7 success over Georgia in the 3rd/4th place play-off, they ultimately secured a passage to next June’s World Repechage.
They will be joined at this particular stage of Olympic qualification by their female compatriots, who finished in second-place in the women’s section of the European Repechage following a string of fine performances.
The return from injury of Kilcullen’s Jenny Murphy was a massive boost for the Irish squad, and she was a prominent figure during their journey through Pool B on Saturday. She recorded a try in each of Ireland’s comprehensive victories over Romania (52-0), Belgium (24-5) and Ukraine (50-0), and when the action got underway on Sunday, they continued to develop a strong rhythm.
Louise Galvin helped herself to a hat-trick of tries in a 40-0 triumph against Germany in the quarter-finals, and she joined Portlaoise’s Alison Miller in crossing over on two occasions during Ireland’s determined 28-5 success over host nation Portugal in the last-four.
As a result of this victory, the Irish women were assured of a place in next year’s World Repechage, but even though Murphy joined captain Lucy Mulhall and Ashleigh Baxter in scoring tries in the European Final against Spain, their opponents ultimately had seven points to spare (26-19).