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The 'give it a crack' Terry Kennedy warning for Ireland's SVNS rivals

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Mike Lee/KLC fotos for World Rugby)

Watch out Dubai. Terry Kennedy is back and in mischievous form after a short break from the sevens circuit where he was so clinical that he was crowned World Rugby men’s player of the year for 2022. A whopping 50 tries he bagged that season for Ireland, repeatedly running defenders ragged and leaving them confused as to how the flip you stop the serial scorer.

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Another 50 this time round, Terry? “I’ll give it a crack,” he smiled, ominously telling RugbyPass that he is mad keen to get back at it full-time following a truncated 2022/23 campaign where he hot-footed it down to Sydney to try out life in the real world away from rugby.

With his only planned interruption being the in-person collection of his world player award in Monaco, sevens wasn’t supposed to be part of his living abroad routine while working in the private equity space in Australia. However, he couldn’t help himself when the ‘give us a dig-out’ call came from home.

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Taking up the story, he explained: “I did a stint down in Sydney in Australia where I was working full-time, ended up playing with the lads in Sydney and Hamilton in January, and then joined back with the squad in May ahead of the Olympic qualifier. Thankfully we got the job done there, had a bit of a summer break and then we have had a long enough pre-season now leading into Dubai.

“I was working with Triton Lake, the team sponsor. Working with them for over two years now, and it was brilliant, the first time I lived abroad. You get to travel a lot with the sevens but living somewhere else is different. It was really good, a great experience for me and it gave me that fresh mentality to come back in with.

“I went down the end of September (2022) and had a little bit of a break, still keeping myself fit and then I found out I was going to be playing with the lads in January, so over December I was working hard doing all the running sessions that the S&C do here in Dublin to make sure I was fit enough to join in with them.

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“The running sessions put you in good nick but there is nothing quite like match fitness and thankfully I had a bit of time with them in New Zealand beforehand. I then ended up picking up a slight injury with my wrist. I was meant to play a bit of 15s down there in Sydney but it didn’t materialise because of that and by the time I was back from that, it was nearly time to come back for the Olympic qualifier.”

With Games progress secured in Krakow, Paris next July is the salubrious destination for Ireland once they complete the revamped HSBC SVNS Series which culminates in a hopefully spectacular grand final weekend in Madrid from May 31. It’s quite the reward for Kennedy, in particular, given his rugby career could have taken a very different path.

The son of a former Ireland international who was capped in the early 1980s, he was part of the Ireland U20s squad featuring the likes of James Ryan, Hugo Keenan and Jacob Stockdale that reached the 2016 Junior Championship final against England in Manchester.

Induction to the famed Leinster academy soon followed but rather than gallop along a path that could have seen him involved in this weekend’s hugely attractive URC derby versus Munster at Aviva Stadium, Kennedy is instead packing his bags for a two-week trip taking in Dubai and Cape Town, the first two legs in the newly reimagined eight-leg HSBC SVNS Series.

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What gives? “I played a little bit of the sevens in 2015 and then was between sevens and 20s in 2016, played that World Cup in Manchester and when I came back I joined the Leinster academy for a couple of years but predominantly spent most of the time playing sevens,” he explained.

“I just really enjoyed the sevens, loved what we were doing here. For most guys, the 15s route is the one they want to go down but sevens for me was what I enjoyed the most and I was delighted to go down that route.

“I just love one, the travel, and two, the type of game, that expansive running game, working really hard for each other. The fast-paced game, the travel, getting to play around the world was something that really appealed to me.”

Ireland are now the real deal, becoming an elite circuit team in 2019 and enjoying a best-ever fifth-place finish in 2021/22 before reaching the semi-finals of the 2022 World Cup Sevens in Cape Town. The 27-year-old Kennedy, though, knows what it is like away from the glitz, having spent his early years in the code grafting with way fewer resources at numerous lower-profile events.

“We were kind of part-time, training in the evenings sometimes because some of the lads were at work, in college, so it was different,” he recalled. “But we still got some really good trips out of it and travelled the world.

“We did a few mad trips. Went to Stellenbosch to train in South Africa; I loved that. Dubai was always a good trip, even though we were playing in the invitational tournament. Then we had a mad trip to Uruguay and Chile, so that was interesting. I actually joked that I thought it was similar to Spain and Portugal, but it was much further away.

“We had a good time, but it was just different. You were probably not as well looked after as now on the series where you have everything pretty much sorted for you. You’d run into some funny problems, but we had some great memories from those trips.

“It was about working hard because you knew you had a goal [the HSBC circuit]. We didn’t make it in 2018 when we tried to qualify, had to wait a full year to do it again, and then thankfully we got the job done in 2019 and that brought us onto the series full-time.”

What does the Ireland squad do to while away the long hours abroad when they are not playing or training? “There’s not too many bookworms, we play a lot of cards. That’s our way of keeping busy. The card shark is Mark Roche. We have a few games… of late there has been a bit of blackjack and things like that. We have good fun doing it.”

The more streamlined 2023/24 season will see fewer windows for fun, a revamp that is no bad thing in the eyes of the ambitious Kennedy. “We very much enjoy the weeks away and you train hard but at this stage, the tournament is the be-all and end-all, it’s what we are to there to do.

“We will enjoy things going on in the background but ultimately, we have one goal. We really need to push our standards and push for those medals consistently because that gives you the best foot forward when it does come around to the Olympics – and we are targeting those medals.

“It will be great. A shorter season in terms of tournaments, there are only eight, all double-headers. It will be great growing both sides of the game, especially with the Olympics coming up, and most of the places we have been before.

“Perth is a new one, but we are excited. Madrid will be brilliant for the grand finale. Talking to a few of the Spanish lads, they are hoping that with a bit of promotion, they can get a really good crowd out there and the stadium looks incredible too.

“For sure, we have a really strong squad this year and it is all made up of guys who have been here a year, two years minimum, where everyone knows their role really well, knows all the details and it makes a lot of difference.

“It means when we go out, we have that cohesion. There is plenty of competition for places and we are pushing each other, training has been really good. Hopefully, the squad for Dubai can put the best foot forward.”

  • Click here for all the details about the new-season HSBC SVNS Series 
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