Devastated Ireland fans in New Zealand are now making plans to head for home early after their rugby heroes were stopped short in their dream World Cup run by celtic cousins Wales.
Irish eyes stopped smiling early on Saturday morning as things just didn’t go according to plan against a resurgent Welsh side.
Alarm clocks had sounded across the country as scores of the loyal ‘Blarney Army’ prepared to huddle around televisions for the quarter-final clash taking place 12,000 miles away on the other side of the world.
Bars across Ireland, north and south, threw open their doors at dawn for hordes of fans to stand shoulder to shoulder to watch their heroes in action at dusk in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Thousands of those lucky enough to get their hands on a ticket for the historic clash in Wellington created a sea of green with chants of ‘Ireland, Ireland’ reverberating around the stadium.
Ultimately it wasn’t meant to be for the Irish, with their rollercoaster World Cup ride grinding to a halt against their plucky opponents and a final score of 22-10 to the men in red.
The Irish sent shockwaves throughout the rugby world when they saw off Australia in a superb victory, which helped them take top spot in their pool prior to the knockout stages.
That result had local fans dreaming of going all the way on the sport’s biggest stage of all. Around 25,000 Ireland fans were in New Zealand with many travelling around the country in a colourful cavalcade to support the men in green at every fixture.
The Irish fans’ good humour and spirit has fascinated the local media, and Ireland soon became everyone’s second favourite team and were welcomed with open arms by the Kiwi population.
The hopes of a first-ever semi-final berth and perhaps even more were ultimately dashed by Wales, who sealed their first semi-final place in 24 years.
Ireland were on the back foot from the off, conceding a converted try in the opening stages.
Ronan O’Gara put Ireland’s first points on the board after a penalty, but Wales restored their seven-point lead in the same fashion.
A rejuvenated Ireland hit back after half-time, a try from Keith Earls, converted by O’Gara restoring parity and hope.
But it was to be short-lived, Wales adding two further tries and a conversion to wrap up victory. Ireland threw all they had left at Wales in the closing stages, but their defence proved equal to the task.
A dream semi-final against rivals England had been on the cards for Ireland prior to Saturday.
The English too crashed out, at the hands of France by 19 points to 12, giving the Irish contingent an excuse to raise their glasses after their own disappointment.
Afterwards, Ireland’s dejected captain Brian O’Driscoll admitted it “really sucked” to be out of the competition, but paid tribute to the Irish fans who had lit up the tournament throughout.
“The feeling at the hotel with the supporters before the game was very special and we’re sorry we can’t give them another couple of weeks out here.
“It is very disappointing to be going home.”
Ireland coach Declan Kidney said that the Irish dressing-room was all “quietness” after the defeat but that the players are “good men and will bounce back”.