Ireland 7s Qualify For Tokyo Olympics 2021 With Help From Bahrain Born Harry McNulty
With enthralling Gallagher Premiership and Top 14 semi-finals taking place alongside the deciders of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman and something called the Rainbow Cup last weekend, most avid rugby fans could have been forgiven for not paying much attention to the World Rugby Sevens Repechage in Monaco.
There was much interest and ultimately pride in one particular pocket of the Gulf rugby region however, as Bahrain-born Harry McNulty sealed Ireland’s passage to the Tokyo Olympics with the last try of a pulsating final against a much-fancied France.
For a country that has enjoyed the most successful period in its rugby history over the last 20 years, Ireland has little room or love for the abbreviated game and had largely ignored the format until introduced to the Rio Olympics.
Starting from the bottom of the ladder, Ireland’s qualification attempts for that event kicked off in the less-than-glamourous surroundings of Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the Rugby Europe Division C competition in Zenica in the summer of 2015.
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Scoring his side’s opening try against Turkey on that occasion was McNulty, who has been an ever-present, a leader and an undoubted star of the team ever since, as Ireland have steadily improved and risen through the ranks.
Despite coming up short in their bid for Rio, the team went on to win the Rugby Europe Grand Prix Series and finished ninth at the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco, before securing a much-coveted place on the World Sevens Series – at the second time of asking – ahead of the 2019/20 season.
The globe-trotting nature of the circuit certainly doesn’t phase McNulty, who spent time in the UK and the US as a child, in between stints in Bahrain, where Dad, Aidan, was a mainstay of the dominant Bahrain team of the late 1980s/early 90s.
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Brothers In Arms
From Bahrain, McNulty – and younger brother Sean, a former Ireland u20s and Leinster Academy hooker – attended boarding school at Rockwell College and helped them to the Munster Senior Cup in 2011 as a rangy centre, before being picked up by the prestigious Munster Rugby Academy.
Having been released by the academy, he featured for the famous Garryowen, Young Munster and Dublin University clubs in the All Ireland League, but sevens selection brought something very different.
Despite the 2019/20 World Sevens Series being cut short, McNulty has marked himself as a standout exponent of the shortened game, to such an extent that he earned himself a contract with the LA Giltinis for the 2021 season of Major League Rugby.
Seemingly not content with lining up alongside the likes of Australian legends Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper in the backs, McNulty has also transitioned to the pack – alongside Sean – in the XVs game and impressed enough to earn a place in the back-row in the league’s team of the week back in April.
With the Giltinis leading the overall standings in MLR, the Ireland Sevens record caps holder received the blessing of the club to return for the Olympic qualifiers, and the move certainly paid off, as McNulty starred in all six wins over the course of the weekend in Monaco.
He will now turn his attentions to matters in Japan at the end of July, where Fiji, the US, New Zealand and South Africa will be rightly fancied as the leading contenders but, if progress over the last six years is any yardstick, don’t be surprised to see McNulty and co competing for medals.
Whatever transpires in Tokyo though, the Ireland Sevens team will be sure to have the support of Bahrain RFC behind them.