Dejected Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll was left regretting missed opportunities as his team faltered at the World Cup quarter-finals.
O’Driscoll said they had only themselves to blame for a 22-10 defeat by a youthful Wales side, failing to secure a first-ever semi-final berth after making the last eight four times.
“It’s very disappointing, both collectively and personally,” said 32-year-old O’Driscoll.
“I won’t get this opportunity again and that really sucks, but life goes on,” the centre added.
This year’s tournament is expected to be the World Cup swansong for O’Driscoll and fellow veterans Gordon D’Arcy, Ronan O’Gara, Donncha O’Callaghan and Paul O’Connell, once hailed as Irish rugby’s ‘golden generation’.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney described the shattered silence in the dressing room following a game when Wales’ ferocious defence turned aside wave after wave of Irish attack.
“When you give your heart and sould to something and it doesn’t work out it’s just quietness (in the dressing room),” Kidney said.
“They’re good men, they’ll bounce back.”
O’Driscoll said Ireland tired late in the first half after they chose not to kick three penalties and instead went searching for a try that only came when wing Keith Earls crossed in the second half.
“We felt we could keep the pressure on and backed our ability to drive over. That cost us a bit,” he said.
“It hurts you a bit when you’re going into half-time and you’ve been knocking on the door but not getting any points out of territory.
“We got ourselves into a position where we were level pegging (at 10-10 early in the second half) but then coughed up some very easy tries.
“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot.”
O’Driscoll hailed the travelling Irish supporters, hundreds of whom performed a rousing rendition of the national anthem at the team hotel before joining a sea of green at Wellington Regional Stadium.
But he said Ireland were not good enough on the night and described Wales, who scored three tries through Shane Williams, Mike Phillips and Jonathan Davies, as worthy semi-finalists.
“You aren’t owed anything, you have to go and earn everythting that you get in Test rugby and today we were off the pace and we go home as a result,” O’Driscoll said.
“It’s a bitter disappointment but you have to suck it up when you haven’t performed on a big stage.”
Prop Mike Ross said Ireland’s stunning 15-6 victory over Australia in Auckland during the pool stages meant they could take some positives from the tournament.
“We finished top of the pool for the first time and set ourselves up for the best possible chance of getting ourselves to the semi-final,” he said.
“We know we can beat teams from the southern hemisphere now.”