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No sooner did RugbyPass get to the platform at the airport railway station the other day did it become immediately apparent that Hong Kong 7s week is special. Spiderman got off the train that just pulled up, and the costume theme continued at Wednesday’s pre-tournament photocall.

Harry McNulty, Ireland’s recently turned 31-year-old, is quite the character on the HSBC SVNS circuit. When the accessories box was opened at the stadium, he dived in and wound-up wearing cat ears and a bow tie in the pictures taken on the South Stand, the area of the ground famed for its unabashed party atmosphere.

He wasn’t faking it either. McNulty has earned his stripes having previously watched the festival from this den of bonhomie. “I’ve been in the South Stand twice supporting,” he enthusiastically told RugbyPass.

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“One year as a group we made a dodgeball sort of style team and then the other year, we did the Aussie, Steve Irwin style. This year I managed to pick up a pair of cat ears and a bow tie, so I think I have already got my costume lined up for the weekend. Yeah, we’re looking good.”

Hong Kong has special memories for the Ireland 7s team as it was on the Island that they won an atmospheric 2019 play-off against the hosts to book their place on the HSBC circuit. Not bad for a team that only restarted from nothing in 2014 way, way down the international ladder.

“We go to play against Hong Kong in the final, so this place was extra rammed,” explained McNulty, casting his mind back to vibrant five-year-old memories. “It was just incredible the noise running out but specifically we had our families here.

“Everybody came out to support us and it was just such a massive part of the programme as well, it was something we have been fighting for four, five years for to try and qualify, and then for it to happen – we have gone on to do so many great things since but that was really the start of everything. It was amazing.”

That’s the type of description that can be applied to McNulty’s rugby career. Born in Bahrain, his family also lived in London and New York before he checked into Co Tipperary’s Rockwell College as a teenager, finishing as a provincial school finalist and enrolling in the Munster academy.

University qualifications became the priority, but he kept the rugby ticking along with baby steps in the Irish 7s renewal. A multitude of limited-profile tournaments off the beaten track were ticked off before the big-time materialised.

That has them qualified for Paris 2024, their second successive Olympics, but cracking the circuit by finally winning a leg of the tournament is an itch that McNulty is now desperate to scratch after bronze medal finishes this season in Perth and LA.

“We know as a team it’s something we are capable of. We have been in finals before, just maybe not performed or things didn’t go our way. There are lots of things that can go on in a tournament.

“It’s the one thing that I still haven’t done in my career and it’s there for us. I’m just hoping that all things go to plan and we play the way we can play, take care of all our own rugby side of it, don’t let it be affected by anybody else and just do our job. Yeah, to win a tournament would be something special.

“Hong Kong is going to be electric. Pre-covid days when I played here this was phenomenal. This is where we qualified for the World Series. Covid slowed things down.

“It’s back open again but also the talk is this is the last time this tournament is being played in this stadium here in Hong Kong, it’s moving across the bay next year so everybody is going to come down, make the most of the weekend.”

Those ‘last time’ dynamics are part of the reason why McNulty is fully focused on successfully getting his team out of a Hong Kong pool containing Spain, Samoa and South Africa rather than viewing this weekend as merely another stepping stone towards Paris at the end of July.

“Totally. The series this year is eight legs. There’s Hong Kong, Singapore and then Madrid. That’s all taking place before the Olympics. Each one of these is so important in order to get everything right, to get game time, to get your confidence.

“This is just as important as the Olympics itself. This is realistically where all the preparation is taking place, so you want to be preparing well to go into the Olympics.

“It doesn’t just happen at the end of July. It all happens now and we have been going since December when we started in Dubai. It’s extremely important.”

Sure is.

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