Billy Dardis has said that watching Kellie Harrington, Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy take home gold medals for Ireland has inspired the sevens team ahead of Paris 2024.
Ireland made history by qualifying for the rugby sevens Olympic tournament for the first time this year after beating France in a dramatic qualifying final in Monaco, but the men in green ultimately failed to reach the quarter-finals in Tokyo.
While making the Games was a major achievement for a country who only established a permanent sevens program in 2014, the Olympics ultimately ended in disappointment for Ireland as they finished in 10th place after a heavy loss to Kenya in their final match.
Irish sevens captain Billy Dardis was speaking after Allianz announced an official three-year partnership with the Olympic Federation of Ireland and admitted that his side may have spent themselves emotionally and physically at the Monaco qualifier.
Billy Dardis on Ireland’s ‘hangover’ from the Monaco qualifier.
“At the time I was thinking about it as positively as I could. We were probably a month ahead of [other teams] because we were preparing for Monaco in June whereas they were preparing for July,” Dardis explained.
“I thought we were riding a bit of a wave of momentum going into the Olympics on the back of Monaco. So I thought we were in a good spot and then we got there and I think the emotional and physical toll that Monaco took, I think there was a bit of a hangover from that.
“We went over there and things just didn’t really click for us. Things weren’t going our way. I think Jordan [Conroy] and Terry [Kennedy] only scored two or three tries between them. Jordo usually might score eight or nine in a tournament.
“Things weren’t sticking, passes weren’t sticking to hand, it was incredibly frustrating and a real bitter pill to swallow afterwards. Thinking back to it, we were two [match] points away from qualifying for a quarter-final in an Olympic Games against New Zealand, which would have been special.”
We’re excited to announce our new partnership with the Olympic Federation of Ireland that will run until December 2024.
— Allianz Ireland (@AllianzIreland) October 21, 2021
Ireland are already looking ahead to the next Olympics.
While the Tokyo Olympics ended less than three months ago, Billy Dardis and his teammates are already dreaming of winning a medal at the next Games in Paris.
Ireland picked up medals in four events in Tokyo, two gold and two bronze, and watching those athletes’ success has strengthened the sevens team’s resolve in picking up medals themselves in 2024.
“It was incredibly disappointing but at the end of the day we came away from it and went, ‘It doesn’t automatically make us a bad team.’ But at the end of the day we achieved what we wanted to achieve in qualifying,” Dardis explained.
“Yes, Irish people want to go to the Olympics and not just be happy to be there but actually compete for a medal. Obviously a few guys have moved on now but a few of spoke us about after seeing the rowers come back with medals and Kellie Harrington – you see how special it would be to get a medal.
“We’re looking now and Paris 2024 is only around the corner really, it’s only three years, two and a half years nearly. It’s lit a fire in all of us so that instead of just qualifying, actually pushing to win a medal at the next Games is the goal from here.
“I’ve a lot of great memories of the Olympics, it was probably the best week of my sporting career but I think it has only motivated me to want more in rugby on and off the pitch.”
Former sevens star Hugo Keenan and his upcoming battle with Simon Zebo.
Ireland 15s full back Hugo Keenan is perhaps the most high-profile player to have spent time with the sevens team, having played alongside Dardis on the sevens circuit from 2017 to 2019.
Keenan made his debut for the Ireland 15s team against Italy in last year’s Six Nations and has since established himself as his country’s first-choice full back.
Simon Zebo, who is in line to win his first Ireland cap in over four years after returning from his stint with Racing 92 in France is expected to challenge Keenan for the 15 jersey, which Dardis believes will make his former sevens team mate up his game.
“Being a sevens player we’re all the biggest fans of Hugo because he’s the ultimate advocate of sevens. He played sevens, went back to Leinster and when the opportunity came to get back involved in sevens and help us to get to the World Series he was only too happy to get involved again and he’s such a massive contributor,” Dardis said.
“Something like that was huge for us because it meant just as much to him to qualify for the World Series as it did to play for Leinster. Then when you see him go on to play for Ireland, the sense of pride that we all have in him playing for Ireland is just as much as anything.
“It was so cool and we’re all best mates with him so we’re only too happy for him. But Zebo coming back into Irish rugby will make things really exciting because I think over the last few years it has been a little bit stagnant.
“I think that’s well documented that it’s not as exciting as it could be and I think there’s someone who brings a lot of x-factor and flair and I think he can only add to Irish rugby.
“He’s been such a significant contributor, he played such a big part in that win in Chicago [against New Zealand]. Obviously he’ll really put a challenge to Hugo but I think that will only push Hugo to get better.”