Louise Galvin and her Ireland Women’s Sevens team-mates get the penultimate round of this season’s HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series underway in Canada tonight with qualification for next year’s Tokyo Olympics at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Since switching codes and leaving behind successful careers as an elite athlete in both basketball and Gaelic football, the UL Bohemian and Munster back from Kerry has had the Olympic experience in her sights and with Ireland currently in their best ever run of form, never has the opportunity felt so within reach.
Having achieved their best finish in Sydney in January by reaching the semi-finals of the Cup competition, a seventh-placed finish in Kitakyushu, Japan last time out last month means Ireland sit two places outside the Series top four in the standings who will guarantee automatic qualification for Tokyo 2020.
Currently, in Langford, British Columbia and drawn in a pool with hosts Canada, winners of the Japan round last month, Ireland kick off their campaign against 2016 Olympic champions Australia at 7:06pm Irish time in Westhills Stadium and will also meet invitational side Brazil.
With only one more event in the Series, in Biarritz on June 15-16, Galvin believes that while still mathematically possible, a top-four finish is realistically out of reach. That will mean going to a European qualification tournament in Kazan, Russia, in July.
“Japan didn’t go as well as Sydney, we finished seventh but held onto our position in the World Series standings, in sixth,” explained Galvin, a newly-appointed Rugby Players Ireland board member representing the Women’s Sevens.
“The top four qualify for the Olympics. At the moment that’s mathematically possible but unlikely that we’ll secure one of the top four positions, so we’re focusing on the tail-end of the season.
“Heading into Rugby Europe qualifying we’re targeting winning and gaining that automatic qualification spot or at least doing our very best to qualify for the (world) repechage the following year.
“We’re gearing up well. It’s unfortunate that no European team is in the top four automatic spots at the moment because it makes that qualification tournament in Kazan in July extremely competitive but we’re up to the task and very focused. Tokyo 2020 is a very real goal for the whole squad.”
Reaching the Olympic Sevens tournament would represent a significant milestone for the players, the IRFU Sevens programme and the sport in Ireland.
Galvin agreed: “It would be humongous. On a personal level it would be a huge dream come true. It was a carrot that was dangled in front of a lot of us who were transfer athletes from other sports.
“Twelve teams go to the Olympics and we’re well within the best 12 teams in the world.
“And it would be huge for the sport in Ireland because we have a Sevens World Cup and a XVs World Cup as well but getting to the Olympics in one of the most entertaining and fastest growing sports in the world would put Sevens on the map in Ireland for both males and females. It would make Sevens another pathway to look at for those who want to be professional athletes and it would be huge in terms of bringing up the players numbers.”
Ireland must win the Rugby Europe qualifier in Russia, a tournament likely also to feature fifth-ranked France and England, currently in seventh but runners-up in Kitakyushu, to advance. Yet if they come up short a second or third place finish in Kazan will give them one final chance to realise the Olympic dream, as winners of the World Repechage to decide the 12th and final team.
As far as Galvin is concerned, that is an experience to be avoided. “It would be pretty annoying saying repechage a lot for the next year but look, it’s easier to go through the front door than around the house and through the back door so we’ll be absolutely on that. That said, whatever way I can get a plane ticket to Tokyo I’ll do it at this stage.”