WITH FIVE MINUTES to go at the Wellington Regional Stadium, Ireland were sending yet more battering rams towards the Welsh line, 12 points down the Irish support somehow mustered a defiant chorus of the Fields of Athenry.
But not since Michael was taken away did it feel this painful.
The warning signs, the bad omens were there if you were looking for them. All along the route to the stadium was awash with green and red. The Welsh, though outnumbered, were in fine voice and when we did raise a roar to meet them, they were far and away the better tuned and sang with precision “with Sam as captain, we’ll bring the cup home.”
The stadium formerly known as Westpac has only one entrance. Ourselves and the Welsh walked side-by-side into the coliseum while the minority Australians were berated by the song: “did you think it would be you?”
They did, and that was clear by the number of empty yellow seats on view.
The jangling nerves were finally put to rest as the game kicked off, though Shane Williams’ early try soon turned the nervous energy into a more depressive feeling.
The dampeners were on and the infamous Welly Wind played its part too with Ronan O’Gara, perhaps the greatest place kicker in world rugby, foregoing three kickable penalties in favour of a line out – we’ve seen this before, it was in Paris and we lost.
The Boys in Green dominated all over the park in that first half, but Wales were clinical, one trip to our 22 gained them 10 points by half time. I charged out of the overcrowded toilets just in time to see Keith Earls score his try: would the little man prompt a big momentum swing?
No, it’s Mike Phillips in that left hand corner… again.
The Irish crowd sat dejected; at 10-10 we had the measure of them but managed to shoot ourselves in the foot not once, but twice, with Jonathon Davies bundling over to put the game out of reach.
Welsh fans who were sat behind us.
Our World Cup adventure is over, we were thoroughly looking forward to rearranging flights and booking a hostel in Auckland or maybe even sleeping on a couch belonging to someone we met along the way. But our plans are now depressingly set in stone.
Realistically, we always expected to exit at this stage, although we imagined it would be to South Africa. Losing to Wales is painful, we went to play Italy expecting to win, Australia, expecting to lose, this was a matter of pride and that pride is massively dented.
It will be the end of the road for many of our heroes, O’Gara and Brian O’Driscoll have played their last World Cup game and it was with disbelief that we looked on trying to fathom that this was actually how they would exit the greatest stage.
But exit they did, do we begrudge them for it? Not in the slightest, we would never have come to New Zealand were it not for them, never experienced the highs of beating Australia, the incredible sights and feelings along the way, and this low.
It must be said that, flying from France four years ago left me with a deep resentment against rugby which took some incredible magical moments to cancel out – this World Cup has only reassured me that we are watching and following the greatest sport on the planet.
Before leaving Dublin we asked only one thing of this Irish team; a whole-hearted performance.
And, by God, they delivered that in every second of every game.
Bye, bye, bye Delilah.
Here’s Sean’s video reaction: