Beaten but not bowed, McLaughlin predicts a rousing Irish finale
Ulster's Claire McLaughlin admitted it was a bitter-sweet experience to finally get a taste of World Cup action in yesterday's crushing defeat to Australia.
The Bushmills-born centre was sat in the stands watching Ireland's stuttering pool performances in Dublin before making the bench for the fifth-place semi-final against the Wallaroos in Ulster's Kingspan Stadium.
And the 25-year-old, a trainee doctor in the Mater Hospital, was thrown into the action considerably earlier than expected after the first-half concussion suffered by Jenny Murphy.
"From not playing the first three games I was feeling fresh and knew I had to bring everything I had," said the former Coleraine High pupil.
"I got on earlier than I thought I would.
"Obviously I was pretty happy to get on and it was a bit of relief because I've been on the high bench for the past three games.
"It had been very disappointing but everyone in that 28-woman squad has a role to play and on match day you're in the dressing-rooms helping everyone and getting everything that needs to be got.
"You're doing everything except the playing part, which is obviously frustrating, but there is a real squad feel and everyone feels part of it. It has been a great experience despite not playing in the first three games.
"We've all been training and working really hard over the last few months and anybody in the squad could come on at any stage and make that big difference."
While that defeat to Australia has left Ireland in a precarious position - needing to beat Wales in Kingspan on Saturday to finish in seventh place and secure automatic qualification for the next tournament in four years' time - the game was an experience that the Cooke clubwoman will not soon forget.
With her passion for the game having been stirred by watching the under-19 World Cup in what was then Ravenhill 10 years ago, it was a memorable moment running on at Kingspan Stadium in front of a large number of family and friends.
"It's great to be in Belfast and have a few home comforts and see a few friends.
"We had an off day and the team were all asking where they should go. Even I went on one of the black cab tours and it was great, I actually learnt quite a lot.
"It's a really nice feeling to be back home and the crowd were great.
"They really lifted it when we needed it but overall we didn't perform well enough."
And, if from the outside it seems the life is draining from Ireland's World Cup game by game, McLaughlin believes the side will be able to rouse themselves mentally in time to finish on a high, come Saturday.
"I think we owe it to ourselves to get that performance," she said.
"We're disappointed but we have to bring a winning mindset on Saturday.
"Over the last few weeks we've become so tight as a squad and we have done so well to come together so I think we really do owe it to ourselves. Positivity will be key."