Kildare duo play key roles in successful Irish team
By Daire Walsh
A frantic weekend at the Sevens World Cup in AT & T Park, San Francisco ended on a high for Ireland in the form of a magnificent Challenge Trophy success for the men’s team over Australia.
This 24-14 victory also secured a ninth-place finish overall for the Irish which, given the side entered the World Cup as 16th seeds, is a notable achievement for all concerned. Despite facing an Australian outfit that were ranked sixth for the tournament, they produced a stunning performance at the home of the San Francisco Giants to claim the silverware on offer.
Captained by Naas’ Billy Dardis, Ireland kick-started their campaign on Friday with a tense Pre-Round of 16 triumph against Chile. Though the sides were inseparable heading into second-half stoppage-time, Eadestown native Jimmy O’Brien produced a last-gasp try to supplement previous efforts from Hugo Keenan and Dardis.
With five points to spare (17-12) over the South Americans, they moved forward to a final-16 affair with South Africa. Unfortunately, a heavy 45-7 defeat ruled out of the main competition – and subsequently placed them in the Challenge section.
However, they attacked this sub-competition with real gusto – as Buccaneers speedster Jordan Conroy helped himself to a hat-trick in a 24-14 quarter-final win at the expense of Kenya. Dardis contributed a brace of conversion in this contest, before taking on a more significant role in the penultimate round showdown with Wales.
Alongside Keenan, Conroy and Shane Daly touchdowns, the former Newbridge College crossed over for two tries in a much-deserved 27-12 triumph.
This set-up the aforementioned final meeting with the Australians, where Dardis and O’Brien were once again to the fore. Thanks to tries from the Lilywhite duo, Ireland brought a 12-7 buffer into the break.
With momentum now on their side, Terry Kennedy and Greg O’Shea added tries on the resumption to seal the Challenge title.
Meanwhile, it also proved to be a memorable World Cup for the women’s sevens squad – who achieved a best-ever finish of sixth at the end of a hectic weekend schedule in the US city. It began on Friday for Stan McDowell’s charges with a majestic Round of 16 Championship victory over England (19-14).
Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (two) and Ashleigh Baxter were the try scorers in that game, but they were powerless in their quest to deny the New Zealand juggernaut in the last-eight – a 45-0 success for the Black Ferns bringing an end to Ireland lofty title ambitions.
They then found themselves in a 5th-8th place play-off semi-final, where Stacey Flood, Eve Higgins, skipper Lucy Mulhall and Louise Galvin all registered tries in a 20-15 triumph over Russia. Awaiting them in Saturday’s ranking decider was a Spanish side that had impressively overcome the stern challenge of Canada.
Although teenage Railway Union star Higgins secured a try that was converted by the dependable Mulhall, Ireland ultimately succumbed to a 7-12 reversal.