THE agony of those dying minutes in Paris as Ireland tried to pull out a famous victory from the embers of one of the most tense and hard-fought RWC quarter-finals for some time will remain with Ireland fans for many years.
For this writer, the hurt of the loss to New Zealand compared to the 1994 All-Ireland Hurling Final when Offaly came back in the closing minutes to beat Limerick in Croke Park and manager Tom Ryan described his feeling as “like a death in the family”.
Were the expectations around the Irish camp too high? Did we really think that the All-Blacks would roll over and provide easy picking at a quarter-final stage of the biggest rugby competition on the globe?
Their record at this stage of the RWC reads nine quarter-finals, eight wins, and that speaks for itself. The manner in which New Zealand pulled down a black iron curtain in defence of their line in the closing stages was the deciding factor of this classic encounter.
On other occasions, and against less prepared sides, the necessary five pointer would have been achieved by Andy Farrell’s team.
The second-half penalty miss was also crucial to the result. It would have provided the chance of a winning drop goal after some super rugby had brought play to within scoring distance of the posts.
The final whistle on Saturday around 10pm marked the end of an era for some of the gallant 33 in the green shirts. But the future of the game in this country remains positive and the Irish players will soon file back to their clubs and provinces.
For most of us, we will shudder for some time as we recall the most capped All Black player of all time (151), big Sam Whitelock, firmly grip the ball with his sizeable paws to force the turnover and shatter Ireland’s dreams.
Farrell, who has signed an extended two-year contract as head coach, which will bring him up to 2025, described the defeat as “cruel” and “the end for this current squad, especially for Jonathon Sexton and Keith Earls who are retiring”.
Forwards coach Paul O’Connell described Earls as “a great example to people in terms of professionalism, how to deal with the struggles of life, and the way he plays the game.”
Written by Aidan Corr.