Belfast Telegraph

Irish rugby battled bravely ... but it just wasn't their night

Fans and families pay tribute as brave Irish exit World Cup

By Nicola Anderson

They promised to give England a good run for their money. The Girls in Green did that and more.

Such a crushing defeat so soon after their magnificent triumph over New Zealand seemed the cruellest and most bitter of blows – but Ireland had nothing to be ashamed of.

Devastation and disappointment etched on their exhausted faces, they could at least be content in the knowledge they had given this World Cup semi-final every ounce of blood, sweat and tears.

They had battled on in France relentlessly even when it was obvious they had lost the war. Faced with the formidable wall of muscle that was the English side, their courage was unquenchable. They had never even flinched.

"This is a team that doesn't like to lose," said Ulsterwoman Grace Davitt's father, Tony, after the game.

The tenacious Cooke player and Belfast Harlequins wing Ashleigh Baxter both lined up for Ireland, helping the team to go further than ever before down the path to World Cup glory.

Tears in her eyes, Grace's sister, Fiona O'Brien, was just as stricken as any of the players because she knew exactly the level of sacrifice it had taken to get so far, she said.

There was no luck involved, she declared. They had given up many things to train six days a week. "We should all be proud of them," she said.

The team's technical skill and their staunch refusal to bow to their fate are certain signs that the Irish women's rugby team is a mature force on the stage of world sport. They will be back – and stronger than ever.

And with them, ever loyal, will be their growing army of fans.

After lunch, the team had begun to gather at the Stade de Jean Bouin on the outskirts of Paris, a group small in number but with a ferocious and unswerving devotion that the Boys in Green could only dream of.

"Every single club and workplace should analyse the ethos of that team," said Lucy Keaveney from Fairyhouse, Co Meath.

"They are such characters and are so professional. I'm in awe of them," she declared.

Asked what it was that set them apart from other teams, Lucy said it was their spirit, determination and the fact that they are so down to earth, always stopping to chat to their supporters.

"They are just lovely, lovely girls," she said.

The game began with great promise when Niamh Briggs converted an early try. But 'Les Rosbifs' flexed their considerable muscle and powered through the Irish lines.

Their sheer size dwarfed the Girls in Green, making it a tough and very physical struggle right to the very end.

At last, the curtain came down on a crushing scoreline: Ireland just seven points to England's 40.

Ireland manager Philip Doyle paid tribute to Ireland, as captain Fiona Coghlan said they "lacked unity".

But it was no wasted journey for the fans.

"We drove three-and-a-half hours to get here from Angers in the Loire," said Diarmuid O'Reilly from Carrigmacross, Co Monaghan.

"It was well worth it," he added.

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