Tears and pride as World Cup dream ends for Girls in Green
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 they had nothing to be ashamed of.
Devastation and disappointment etched on their exhausted faces, they could at least be content in the knowledge that they had given this semi-final every ounce of blood, sweat and tears.
They had battled on 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 Grace Davitt's father, Tony, after the game.
But having come further than ever before down the path to the World Cup is a victory in itself.
And their technical skill and their staunch refusal to bow to their fate earlier on in the game 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, they 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. She and her husband, John had travelled especially over to Paris, having first become die-hard fans of the women's rugby team when they beat England in the spectacular victory of February 2013.
"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 all other teams, Lucy said it is their spirit, their 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.
Former team doctor, Jess O'Riordan and her partner Sven Geirsson from Newcastle West, Co Limerick had brought their son Rory (2) along to the game.
"I think he was six weeks old when he went to his first rugby match," said Jess.
And as a group of fans in the green jersey mingled peaceably with those in the white of England on a cafe terrace near the stadium, a curious Parisian stopped to comment at this apparently remarkable sight.
"Togezzer before and after ze game?" he asked an English fan.
"Oh yes," said the man, surprised by the question.
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 the Girls in Green, 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, holidaying with his wife Laura, friends Conor and Briege Comiskey, also from Carrickmacross, together their young children. "It was well worth it," said Diarmuid.
"It's always great to see Ireland play, no matter what it is or who they are."
Ger and Myra O'Neill from Kilkenny, holidaying with sons Daniel (13) and Aidan (11) said the defeat had been disappointing.
"But the Irish men's rugby team have been trying to defeat New Zealand for 150 years. The women managed it last week," he pointed out.
"They played very well," said former Grand Slam winner Joy Neville, who had joined the fans to show support.
Tears in her eyes, Grace Davitt'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 training six days a week.
"We should all be proud of them," she said.