Alas, the dream is over. Irish Rugby’s golden generation will never lift the World Cup.
Never again will International rugby’s grandest stage play host to one of its greatest leads, Brian O’Driscoll, and his fine supporting cast – O’Callaghan, O’Connell, O’Gara, D’Arcy et al.
Beaten 22-10 in the quarter-finals by the ruthless, firebrand Welsh, the Webb Ellis Cup was a step too far for a side who secured the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2009 – only the second in Irish history.
As ever Ireland – perennial World Cup underachievers – came into the tournament with legitimate hopes of at least a semi-final appearance, despite patchy pre-tournament form.
The Irish campaign began as it ended with a 22-10 score line – a slightly rusty defeat of the USA. After this, they sauntered through the group stages – despatching Russia and Italy with ease and aplomb. Australia were also beaten in a furious, ferocious 15-9 victory. It was the type of win that had even the cynics daring to believe – they couldn’t, could they?
But it wasn’t to be.
Wales, arguably the most exciting side of the tournament, shattered Emerald dreams. In another brutal, physical battle Wales’ young upstarts were just too good and too fit for Ireland’s old stagers. For Wales, victory was another stepping stone for a side with a bright future ahead of it. For Ireland, it was the end of the road.
Captain O’Driscoll’s post match interview said it all. With a tear in his eye he admitted that this was the end. By winning the group they’d given themselves their greatest chance and their last chance. Now it was gone.
A new generation will now look to take Ireland onwards to 2015. In Cian Healy, Johnny Sexton and the bullish, brilliant Sean O’Brien the future of Irish rugby looks to be in safe hands.
But whatever the future holds, the romantic inside can’t help but rue what might have been for Irish Rugby’s golden generation.