- By Nigel Ringland
- BBC Sport NI in Kraków
Ireland beat Great Britain 26-12 in the rugby sevens final at the European Games to secure their place at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
James Topping’s European gold medalists have joined the Ireland women’s team in reaching next year’s Games.
This will be the second Olympic appearance for the men’s team after their debut at the 2021 Games in Tokyo.
Billy Dardis, Terry Kennedy and Jordan Conroy with two were Ireland’s try-scorers in the final in Krakow.
After a spirited opening some aggressive play and counter-rucking by Ballynahinch’s Zac Ward allowed Dardis to pick up a loose ball to score the first try of the game.
GB were soon back on level terms thanks to a point from Thomas Williams but with added time at the end of the first half, Kennedy showed all his skill and speed to score a vital try that put Ireland ahead.
The second half saw the Irish seize control and they created two openings for Conway to stretch his legs and send his side to another Olympics.
With Ireland taking the qualification spot for Paris, Great Britain and Spain will progress to next year’s final repechage as they target an Olympic place.
“Qualifying for the Olympics is great and for us as a program we want to expand the game and for the players it’s an opportunity to play in an Olympic Games. For us it’s the reward for what has been a good season for us,” said Irish coach, former Ulster winger Topping.
“It’s a sport where Irish people can do well I think although it’s quite tough. You have to be quick and aggressive and have heart for it. The men jumped on the back of the women’s success last month and it’s fantastic for rugby in the country.”
The Irish men became the seventh team to qualify for Paris 2024, joining hosts France, New Zealand, Argentina, Fiji, Australia and Uruguay, with the remaining six spots to be determined by regional qualifying tournaments and World Rugby repechage next year.
Ireland and Great Britain qualified for the men’s final by winning their respective semi-finals in Poland on Tuesday.
Ballynahinch’s Zac Ward was among the Irish try scorers as they beat Portugal 24-0 while Team GB beat Spain 19-7.
Billy Dardis scored both first half tries for Ireland and added two conversions for a 14-0 half-time lead. Ward touched down shortly after the restart and Jordan Conway added the final score.
The Great Britain women’s sevens team claimed gold, and an Olympic place by beating hosts Poland 33-0.
Ireland’s women made history in May by qualifying for their first Olympics.
All three Irish advanced to the quarter-finals
In boxing, Michaela Walsh is one win away from becoming a double Olympian after a comprehensive 5-0 win over Turkey’s Aysen Taskin in the last 16 of their featherweight contest at the European Games in Poland.
There were also wins for flyweight Daina Moorhouse and middleweight Aoife O’Rourke that gives Ireland an impressive nine quarter-finalists in action on Wednesday, with seven of the boxers one win away from grabbing themselves a place at next summer’s Paris Olympics.
All six of the women’s team made it to the last eight.
Walsh dominated throughout the fight and his Turkish opponent was overwhelmed by the more experienced and calculated Belfast fighter.
“I felt fantastic, the coaches got the tactics and I just tried to stick to the plan. I stepped it up as the match went on and it felt great and special to be part of an amazing team.
“Everyone is bouncing off each other. Being a double Olympian is something I’ve dreamed of. I’m enjoying this moment but we go again,” said Walsh who faces Melissa Mortensen from Denmark in her quarter-final.
Moorhouse had been waiting five days to step into the ring for the first time and the Bray flyweight did not disappoint as she won the contest against Ukraine’s Tetiana Kob in the first two rounds en route to a 4-1 split decision.
Former world champion Aoife O’Rourke was pushed by Cindy Djankeu Ngamba but prevailed 3-2.
to Derry Eoin McConnell was 27th in the women’s triathlon held at the Olympic distance.
McConnell started strongly and was in third place midway through the 1500m swim and just 21 seconds behind the leading duo as he was in the chase pack for the 40km cycle.
It was only in the last 8km of the bike ride that he fell off the pace and in the pouring rain he recorded a time of 38.33 for the 10km run.
Elsewhere on the eighth day of the Games, in archery Emma Davis from Keady in County Armagh were beaten 6-0 in the last 64 by Elisabeth Straka from Austria.
In badminton, Ulster’s Rachel Darragh came from behind in her women’s singles match to defeat her Serbian opponent 2-1. Darragh, who is appearing in her third European Games, made use of her experience by defeating Serbia’s Marija Sudimac in three sets: 13-21, 21-19, 23-21.
The 25-year-old remains in contention to progress to the last 16 despite losing his opening game.
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