Qualifying for last year’s Olympics felt like the end of a long and winding journey for the Irish men’s sevens team.
Some of the players who sacrificed so much to make history by coming to Tokyo have retired to pursue other careers outside of rugby, while new faces have joined the set-up amid changes. A few “old” heads helped keep the show going…on the streets.
Billy Dardis embodies the hard work and dedication it takes to become an Irish Sevens player.
Seven years after first joining the team after being sacked by Leinster, Dardis remains as motivated as ever. That’s why heavyweights like Greg O’Shea walked away after the Olympics.
However, Dardis continues his preparations as Ireland’s captain for the second World Cup in Cape Town this weekend.
“Fortunately, I started working with Triton Lake last year.
“For some people, that was the biggest problem with the money issues around the sevens. I finished my master’s and started working. If I was fit enough to keep playing, why stop?” I don’t know.
“From that point of view, motivation has never been an issue. What drives me these days is that we reached a certain point, that we were fifth in the world, that we qualified for the Olympics, Participating in the World Series, Participating in the World Cup.
“Now it’s like, ‘Imagine winning the World Cup or going to the Olympics and winning a medal.
“For me, I imagine what it will be like to be on the podium at the Stade de France in two years time.
“When I came back from Tokyo, I was so calm and like, ‘What’s next?’ And you really have to dig deep to find out what you want to focus on next.
“I want to keep playing until the next Olympics and this is just a stepping stone.
“It’s different when you’re young. You want to play with Leinster or Ireland, but for me now I’m just enjoying playing.
“Covid was the biggest factor in that it really forced us to appreciate travel. The Olympics taught us to relax about things. just have fun.
“A family illness has given me a lot of perspective, but now I enjoy what I do. I’m honored to be able to make a little ruckus.”
Dardis recognizes that many people would like to be in his shoes when it comes to the various difficulties of moving the world from one time zone to another.
Still, the 27-year-old ex-Ireland U-20 international has something on his mind.
“This trip has been crazy the last few weeks,” Dardis explained.
“We flew to Los Angeles, then a 16-hour flight to Dubai, an eight-hour layover, and a 10-hour flight to Cape Town, so it’s just mental.
“This year I flew from Singapore to Vancouver. There is a 16 hour time difference and I played six days later.
“I know World Rugby talks about the whole player welfare thing, but it was just insane. I can’t say, but it’s always a challenge to prepare correctly for the weekend.”
Ireland kicks off their World Cup campaign against Portugal on Friday morning. A win there would set up a best-of-16 matchup against England, and if Ireland reach the quarter-finals, they will likely face hosts South Africa on Saturday night, which would be a great opportunity.
“We definitely have the strength to beat any team in the world,” added Dardis.
“We mix it with the best teams. I’m here.
“We have a good chance of presenting it to everyone and hopefully we can do something special for Irish rugby.”