Ireland Rugby Sevens star and Movember ambassador, Harry McNulty talks about Ireland’s rapid rise to the top tier of the sport, a life spent in transit and the importance of getting involved in Movember to raise awareness of men’s health issues.
The Ireland Rugby Sevens team is fully punching above its weight. We’ve come so far in such a short space of time. From a standing start in the 2014 / 15 season we made it all the way into the World Series. I’m proud of the fact that I was part of the first squad. It’s very special. I kind of joke and say hopefully no other player will have to do what I have done because if that happens that means something went terribly wrong.
In terms of Irish rugby, we’re a part of its history now and no one can take that away from us. The story doesn’t make much sense to other rugby people because to get there we were playing against Croatia and Malta, Iceland and all these nations not normally associated with the game of rugby.
When we qualified for the Rugby Sevens World Series, I broke down crying for a couple hours. It was a goal that took five years to happen so there was a weight lifted off my shoulders.
The Olympics is the goal now. We didn’t get to complete qualification before Covid happened so hopefully we can take that step.
The fact that travel is such a huge part of the Rugby Sevens life sits well with me. I’ve travelled and moved around my whole life. To put it into context, my dad the other day told me that I have lived in nearly 30 houses by now. I’m an Irish man but I was born in Bahrain; my parents met out there. Mum was cabin crew working for the King of Bahrain and so she travelled the world. Dad’s from Dublin but he moved out there to work in finance. His end goal was to work on Wall Street so, first, we moved to London where Dad got a job with JP Morgan, knowing they had an office in New York. After three years he was transferred to New York so, for 10 years we lived in the US.
When I think of those years in the US, I think of sports. I wanted to play every sport I could; baseball, soccer, swimming, diving, tennis, but ice hockey was my favorite. We lived in a place called Rye, Westchester, about a 45-minute train ride to the city. Like a lot of parents in our town, Dad worked in the city, in the financial district downtown.
School was just like every American movie you’ve ever seen. You pledge allegiance to the flag in the morning and then the principal would always come on to the intercom and kind of give a synopsis of the day like if there is anything happening like a fire drill or whatever and then you would have your class periods and you would do that. But I remember when I’d started the third grade, I was eight years old. We were in class for maybe a half period and the principal comes on and was like “ hello everybody nothing to be afraid of but essentially your parents have been notified that school is over for the day and you’re going home”.
When I got home, I could see the 9/11 attacks unfolding on the TV. I was with my mom in the living room, just watching but not fully understanding what the hell was going on. Thankfully, my dad made it home. He stood in the doorway with dust all over his clothes and his shoes. I don’t really remember much other than that. Then, two weeks later I broke down crying in class in school because it all just kind of hit me like a delayed reaction that was overwhelming. At that stage, I knew that unfortunately there were some kids in my school whose parents didn’t make it home and never would. There were people within our community that were involved like my best friend’s Dad who is a fire fighter in New York City. He survived but I couldn’t even imagine all the things he would’ve seen and experienced that day.
I had been to visit the Twin Towers with my mom. I remember standing there at the top looking down at a helicopter that was flying past below us. Then to see those apocalyptic type scenes in the city a short time after. It was a crazy time. I never speak much about it.
We left the US when I was 14. My parents were moving back to Bahrain, but I went to Rockwell College in Tipperary as a full-time boarder. Of all of the places I have moved to, Rockwell was the best decision of all. I loved it there. I was in there 10 minutes and it was like “Oh, you’re the Yank”. That’s Irish culture, there’s no harm behind it even if you’re the butt end of a joke. After a while I learned to embrace it and I became the “Yank”. I’m still known as the Yank among my school mates.
I made friends for life. Everyone who I went to school with was from a different county like Cork, Kerry, Monaghan there was a couple of guys who were from nearby. So even now were spread out throughout the country or abroad but we still keep in touch.
Rockwell is also where my rugby career started. I made it onto Munster underage teams. Then, when I went to university, I kept up my rugby. I played for Trinity for a year under Tony Smeeth who introduced me to Sevens Rugby. I played in a few tournaments and always loved the format. Then, David Nucifora, High Performance Director for the IRFU and one of his team, Anthony Eddy, put the Rugby Sevens development program in place. There was an open day trial out in Santry, one of many around the country, and my mum actually signed me up for it. After that there were more trails and then they picked an international squad. There I was, on day one, selected to represent Ireland. Our first Irish cap was in Bosnia against Bosnia in division C of Europe. Then we progressed to Division B and A and then the Grand Prix which is the equivalent of the Championship in Soccer and after five years, the World Series. There are five of us left now from the original Ireland 7s team. We know how fortunate we are to have been part of that journey. Its been a very cool experience.
Despite all the travel adventures with the team, I still love to travel alone. Whenever we come home from a tournament, I will have arranged for flight basically the next day to go somewhere else. When we won Hong Kong, we had Monday we went on a boat all day drinking beers and having food and we flew out Monday at midnight. When we got home, we continued the celebrations but I already had a bag half packed and at 3 o’clock in the morning I got a taxi to the airport and I had a flight at 6 o’clock in the morning to fly to Uganda for 10 days. After the Rugby Sevens World Cup, I went to Fiji for three weeks. I just love getting emersed in new cultures, seeing how they live.
Like in Fiji, they are still very tribal, so you live within a community. There’s a head chief of that community and if someone needs help, they come together. They help to build each other’s houses and everything like that. I ended up living with a rugby team for two nights where 30 guys all slept in a community hall together on these little mattresses and they would wake up at four or five o’clock in the morning to pray and they all put on a shirt and tie and their traditional type of dress and they sing gospel hymns. They aren’t a choir but Jesus those guys can belt a tune. It was just so cool to be involved in that.
As I travel, I’m big into photography and videography. It has allowed me to build up a social following and I’m glad I get to use that to support Movember. The movement has become a community, a brotherhood and has the power to help so many people from awareness of testicular cancer to promoting the mental health agenda and encouraging men to talk. Its staggering to think that, globally, one man dies from suicide every minute; over half a million fathers, partners, brothers and friends each year. Just being able to help in a small way is huge for me personally. So, get involved!
If you enjoyed Harry’s piece you might like to read John Cooney’s – “The Road Less Travelled.”
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