DUBAI, UAE - A former Dubai Hurricanes mini, who first tried rugby as a five-year old at The Sevens, said it was "surreal" after returning to the ground to make her World Series debut with Ireland.
Erin King played for Hurricanes, who have been tenants at The Sevens grounds on the Al Ain Road, in Dubai, since it opened in 2008, for five years while a pupil at Dubai British School.
She subsequently moved on to Doha, and then five years ago, to Ireland. The Australian-born teenager said she was stunned when she found out she would be debuting in the international game at a tournament she has known so well since childhood.
"It has been crazy," King said, after Ireland finished their tournament with a 26-12 win over Canada on Saturday.
"Just moving around here I have kept bumping into people saying they remember me from when I was that high, and playing for the Hurricanes. It is crazy. It is surreal how it has come full circle. It just feels crazy.
"My dad played in Saudi and all around the Gulf. When we were here, we were always at the club and my brothers played. I came along and I loved it.
"I think I was the only girl at the start, playing with all the boys up until I was around 14. I just loved it."
Erin King had her first taste of rugby alongside the boys in Dubai Hurricanes minis when she was five years old. Photo: Joanne King
Having only turned 18 in October, and as a relative sevens novice having taken up the abridged format at the start of this year, King had had merely harboured hopes of making the Irish development side this season.
To her surprise, she landed a dream debut on the World Series when she was called up to tour the city she once called home, for the back-to-back tournaments in Dubai.
Her official bow came in the behind-closed-doors tournament a week ago. Six days later, she ran out in a more familiar environment in front of packed stands, as fans returned to the Emirates Dubai Sevens.
Her rise in the game has been startling, given her introduction to competitive sevens came at a tournament in Spain as recently as October.
"I only started playing sevens in January," King said.
"I played my first sevens tournament two months ago in Elche, was working myself up onto the team, and was hoping for a spot on the development team.
"I found out I was going to be playing on the series, and I couldn't believe it.
"I want to earn my spot on the team permanently now. I am working towards it, and learning new things all the time."
Erin King went to watch a number of Dubai Sevens as a child. This weekend she played on Pitch 1 herself as an Ireland international. Photo: Joanne King
King's appearance at the Dubai Sevens was not without its personal highlights. In Ireland's last pool match of Day 1 on Friday, against an imposing United States side, she made a brilliant try-saving tackle, much to the approval of the boisterous DHL Stand.
However, she said nothing could top the feeling of running out in green for the first time.
"Just getting to play," she said of her favourite moment of the weekend.
"The whole experience with all the fans here is completely different. Last week it was nice to ease into it without any fans.
"I have been coming to the Sevens since I was five years of age, so to be able to come here and finally play on Pitch 1 is just surreal.
"We have improved loads from last week. We lost to Canada last week. We came ninth last week, so to come away this week having improved is great.
"We beat GB as well, who we lost to last week, so we are learning and improving, which is great."
Source: The National
Ireland Women's Sevens Squad:
Kathy Baker (Blackrock College RFC)
Claire Boles (Railway Union RFC)
Mabh Deely (Blackrock College RFC)
Anna Doyle (DCU/Blackrock College RFC)
Katie Heffernan (Mullingar RFC/Railway Union RFC)
Brittany Hogan (DCU RFC/Old Belvedere RFC)
Erin King (Old Belvedere RFC)
Maeve Liston (Blackrock College RFC)
Emily Lane (Blackrock College RFC)
Kate Farrell McCabe (Suttonians RFC)
Grace Moore (Railway Union RFC/IQ Rugby)
Lucy Mulhall (Rathdrum RFC) (capt)
Bibhinn Parsons (Blackrock College RFC)
Aoibheann Reilly (Blackrock College RFC)
Aoife Wafer (Blackrock College RFC)
Katie Whelan (Old Belvedere RFC)