Malta, Montenegro and San Marino: The long road to Rio for Ireland's fledgling sevens side begins next month
Better late than never
Ireland relaunched their men's sevens programme today and so begins what will be a long and arduous journey towards a possible place at next year's Olympic Games.
A panel of 27 players has been selected from an initial figure of more than 300 potential players and face a busy summer as they try to re-establish themselves in the sport after a five-year absence.
The IRFU's return to the shorter form of the game has been long overdue and is just in time to stake a claim for the final place available when the competition makes its return to the Olympic programme in Rio next year.
But their disappearance from the sevens fold means they must work their way right up from the bottom of the ladder, starting next month in the rugby hotspot that is Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Ireland are drawn in Pool B of Rugby Europe's Division C competition against Turkey, Belarus and Montenegro.
Should Ireland finish among the top four overall of a tournament that also includes the likes of Malta, Iceland and San Marino, it's then on to Division B a fortnight later in Croatia to tackle such powerhouses as Slovakia, Greece and Luxembourg.
Win that tournament and then its the Rugby Europe Olympic Repechage in Lisbon in July, from which the victors will move on to the World Olympic Repechage early next year, where the final place in Rio will be decided. One major boost comes from the fact that World Series regulars England, Wales and Scotland are all already qualified via a Great Britain side and thus will not feature in the European tournament.
IRFU performance director David Nucifora admitted reaching the Olympics is a long shot, but believes that a regular spot on the World Series tour, which finished up in front of more than 100,000 fans at Twickenham last weekend, is the longer-term ambition.
"We were really impressed with the interest and the talent that applied for our men's sevens squad back in January,' Nucifora said. "With over 300 applicants we had our work cut out to select just 26 [sic] players to take part in the upcoming events.
"We believe that this is a great opportunity for Irish Rugby to develop a different pool of players in a different way. It is our ambition to be a part of the Sevens World Series by the end of 2017 whilst also having an outside chance for Olympic qualification in Rio in 2016.
"This is an exciting time for the players, for Irish rugby and we know that every Irish fan will wish them well."
The large squad is necessary as Ireland are also competing in the three-leg GB 7s tournament this summer which begins on May 30 and is sprinkled with provincial academy and All-Ireland League talent.
Ireland Sevens squad
Cian Aherne (Lansdowne /Leinster)
Tadhg Beirne (Lansdowne/ Leinster)
Alan Bennie (Clanwilliam /Munster)
Adam Byrne (UCD/Leinster - PICTURED ABOVE)
Aaron Cairns (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
Tom Daly (Lansdowne/ Leinster)
Matthew D'Arcy (St. Mary's College/Leinster)
Ian Fitzpatrick (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Dan Goggin (Young Munster/Munster)
Eoghan Grace (Exiles)
Foster Horan (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Alex Kane (Exiles)
Terry Kennedy (St Mary's College/ Leinster)
Michael Lawton (Exiles)
Shane Layden (Buccaneers/ Connacht)
Gearoid Lyons (Young Munster/ Munster)
Diarmuid McCarthy (Young Munster/Munster)
David McGuigan (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
Harry McNulty (UCD/Leinster)
Dave Moore (Blackrock /Leinster)
Luke O'Dea (Shannon/ Munster)
Matthew O'Regan (Exiles)
Mark Roche (Lansdowne/ Leinster)
Steve Toal-Lennon (St Mary's College/ Leinster)
Conor Toolan (St Mary's College/Leinster)
Ciaran Wardle (Exiles)
Alex Wootton (Garryowen/Munster)