PARIS : Call it a jinx, call it a curse, call it a hoodoo. Call it whatever you want — at the end of the day it all boiled down to more Irish heartache.
Eighty minutes of thunderous quarter-final rugby in a Paris cauldron ended with Ireland once again at the World Cup exit, vanquished 28-24 by New Zealand. It had been an eighth Rugby World Cup quarter-final for the Irish. And an eighth defeat.
“Sport can be cruel sometimes,” Ireland’s coach Andy Farrell said as his skipper Johnny Sexton sat beside him, contemplating the start of retirement, tears glistening in his eyes.
The Irish had come into the contest as the world’s number one ranked outfit, riding a 17-game winning streak and their best chance of taking an unprecedented step into the last four.
But at the end, as the Stade de France stadium’s sound system bellowed out Molly Malone by the Dubliners, Ireland’s players were left staring into the skies. “Alive, alive-oh,” the speakers blared, but Ireland’s World Cup dreams were dead.
“It was a fantastic game to be part of, Farrell said, searching for positives on such a devastating evening for the men in green. “And maybe fitting of a final. If you go out with a whimper, it’s pretty hard to take, and we didn’t.
“I’m just immensely proud of everyone connected with Irish rugby to be honest. I am unbelievably proud to be associated with it all. The sad thing is that for this group now it is probably the end.
“Things are going to change. Over the next 24 hours it’s time to make sure we get a smile back on our face as soon as we can, and reflect on some amazing careers.”
One such career is Sexton’s. The 38-year-old has been Ireland’s talisman for many years.
“The last six weeks have been incredible,” he said. “It has been a dream come true for all of us and that includes today really. We showed the character of the team. You’ve got to work hard for fairytale endings and we didn’t get it but that’s life.
“We left no stone unturned, we ticked every box, trained the house down, and played pretty well tonight. A few decisions, a bounce of the ball … fair play to the All Blacks.
“How can you be prouder to be Irish? We (Irish fans) get behind the team like no other. It’s not wasted on us and that’s why it’s so hard to take that we couldn’t give them another couple of weekends but that’s sport, that’s life.
“This is the best group I’ve ever been part of and these lads will go on to great things, and I’ll be in the stands having a pint cheering them on.
“You can’t be 38 and sitting here giving out (complaining) … I will probably reflect more over the next couple of weeks.”