“It was very difficult to see where I would be successful at a professional level in a 15-second match.”

Mark Roach has been there from the start. He is one of those called “assets”.

He remembers the lumpy playground beside a river in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina in June 2015. There were flies everywhere. The dated warm-up layer of cunning grass left everyone’s feet in strips.

The Ireland 7s beat everyone this weekend, making 47 attempts in six matches against small nations like Belarus and Turkey. This was their dominance, and the teams they beat started supporting them. They even sang “Ireland’s Call” as Roach and their co-stars. They stormed the title of the European section c.

Those memories are a far cry from winning the bronze medal at the 7s World Cup in Cape Town last weekend and her appearance on the Late Late Show last night. The medal is the most important but the airtime on RTÉ probably says a lot about the Irish team’s rise.

“When I started, I never thought we’d get where we are,” says the 29-year-old.

“Back in Bosnia, it was just about enjoying playing for Ireland. I had no idea he would end up with a bronze medal at the World Cup.”

In the aftermath of the victory over Australia in the bronze match, Ireland stayed in the changing room for a long time. Nobody wants to leave, nobody wants the feeling to dissipate.

Roach and Harry McNulty, his original bandmate, shared some early laughs. They remembered a trip to Moscow in 2017 when they stayed in a dark gray and miserable place and lived on protein bars for the weekend. These days, they fly around the world to places like Los Angeles, Vancouver and Singapore for the World 7s Series.

“We went from being in bad shape to putting everything on a plate for you,” says Roach.

It was in the first trial when the IRFU announced that it would relaunch the men’s 7s program. Before all that, he was a promising center with Blackrock College and the Leinster teams.

When he was let go by Leinster Sub-Academy, he called Nigel Carolan and asked to do a trial with Connacht U20s. His performances among the pros saw Roach continue to play for Ireland’s U-20s in 2013.

Roche has seen ups and downs in rugby seven.

Source: TrySportImages / Travis Prior / INPHO

But there was no academic offer from the provinces, and while he considered the possibility of moving to the English Championship, Lansdowne convinced Roach that AIL was the right home for him. He scored an attempt in the final where they won the league in 2015.

“It was very difficult to see where I would make it professional in a 15-second match. It looked like I would be playing Lansdowne in my career.”

She appeared on the 7s show and the rest is history. There was heartbreak along the way but Ireland moved up the European standings and qualified for the World Championships in 2019. They have improved every season since then and the only team unbeaten so far is New Zealand.

Roach even managed to don the green jersey alongside his younger brother, Tom, who has broken into the wider team this season.

“We finished second in Toulouse this year and I just said to him, ‘You’re so lucky! Your third tournament and you won a medal. I’ve been waiting since 2018 to get a medal. That was outrageous but it was great to play with him.’”

This does not mean that this journey was easy. Playing professional 7s is not a lucrative career. far from it. Some Irish players earn a base salary of €18,000. Others were earning less.

With Ireland growing as a power we hope the salary will go up very soon, but no one was into this for the money. In fact, some of the seven players retired simply because they needed to get jobs outside of rugby.

Roach lives with his fiancée, Jennifer Gleeson, and son Josh, so there have been occasions when he’s had to seriously consider whether seven is right for him.

“It’s been hard sometimes. I’m in a slightly different situation than the others because I have Jane and Josh, none of the other boys have a baby, and some of them live in the house. We have a mortgage, so there’s a concern about the money and how sustainable it is.”

“Look, I knew the contracts weren’t great but I couldn’t give up 7s because I knew there was more. I love 7s. I want to play as much as I can until I can’t.

“I think if you finish early, you might look back and regret it.”

Roach also works part-time as a personal trainer at Origin Fitness in Dublin, while he trains with Lansdowne – something he wants to pursue further when he’s done playing.

Ireland players celebrate with former teammate Greg O'Shea

Ireland celebrates its bronze award in Cape Town.

Source: Travis Prior / INPHO

And moments like last weekend in South Africa make the sacrifices worthwhile. The straightforward nature of the World Cup meant Ireland’s opening match against petite Portugal was a nervous affair but then they skip England.

It was in the quarter-finals that they truly shook the tournament by dominating hosts South Africa in a victory that surprised everyone except the Irish players themselves.

“Not in an arrogant way, but we knew we were going to win,” said Roach, who missed the 2018 World Cup with a broken leg.

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“I felt there was something special about the set. It’s hard to fully express it in words but we can all feel it.”

There was disappointment in a narrow defeat to New Zealand in the semi-finals, but the medal was still on the line in their last game against the Australian, so there was no time to flop.

Roach says they were excited to send Terry Kennedy into style, as the Saint Mary exorcist now heads to Australia for a year-long vacation from the Squad.

It was a sharp clash as Ireland trailed twice, but Kennedy usually made them equal with fine kick and chase points. He then sent a superb kick-ass pass to Roche in preparation for McNulty’s winning attempt.

With a recent foul on a new similar situation on his mind, Roach remained comfortable collecting the ball off the ground, slipping off an Australian defender and hitting McNulty to finish the match. Kennedy was the right man to kick the ball for the final whistle. The festivities were wild.

“I got emotional, too,” says Roach. “It was one of the greatest feelings. Bronze medal at the World Cup… I know 7s are different with the three medals but to be the first Irish team to do that, it’s crazy. We just screamed on the field.”

Already, Roche is looking forward. The new season of the World 7s series kicks off in Hong Kong in November and you can imagine Ireland taking a lot of scalp out of the ring. The usual seven powers know there’s a new contender now.

Marc Roche

Roche hasn’t been able to play for Lansdowne since 2020 but loves AIL Rugby.

Source: Ryan Byrne / INPHO

Largely looming in the background is the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Roche was part of Ireland’s squad that made history by qualifying for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, which was delayed by a year due to Covid-19.

Roche has Olympic rings tattooed on his forearm, confirming his pride in being an Olympian. But the pandemic meant it was a bittersweet experience, as everyone was constantly worried that a positive Covid test would lose them competition. The anxiety was tough and Ireland had a disappointing championship when they finished 10th. Roche left longing for more.

He remembers the applause of Irish rowers Paul O’Donovan and Vintan McCarthy returning to the Athletes’ Village after winning the gold medal. Roach noted the sheer size and thickness of the medallions around their necks. He was shocked to realize that Team Ireland 7 did not go to Tokyo with the intention of winning.

“We didn’t really know what we wanted,” says Roach. “We weren’t there before. But now boys like Harry, Terry, Jordan [Conroy]Billy [Dardis]All the players who attended the Olympics, we know what we want from the next Olympics.

“He made everyone hungry to get to Paris. I want to do Paris because I want that full experience. I want to go up on the podium with a medal around my neck.”

“We don’t just want to be in the Olympics, we want to win them. We know we can.”