Ireland boss Michael Nutt saluted the performance of his team in the under 25s’ Home International Championship at Eglin over the weekend - but realises he faces another rebuilding process for next season.
Even though there were six new faces on show, the battling Irish were beaten by England in their final match that put the lid on their title aspirations.
They approached the final day one point behind the English and level with Scotland.
Although it was always going to be a tough ask for such a young squad, they returned home with their pride very much intact.
However, when the team travels to Llandindod Wells next September Nutt will be deprived of the services of five of his most influential players - Stephen Shields, Thomas Carson, Daniel O’Kane, captain Andy O’Keeffe and Chris Dorman - due to the age restriction.
“The boys that came in this season did a great job, so the door opens again for another few to step up at this level,” said Nutt. “We started really well by beating Wales, who were defending the title won at Oxford last season.
“However, we couldn’t sustain that level of consistency in our second match against Scotland but there were still many positives to take from the display.
“We were still very much in with a shout of winning the title going into the final day.
“England are a very strong side and were always favourites to win it.
“Consistency is the name of the game. We must strive to bring our ‘A’ game, which we displayed against the Welsh, into all three fixtures.
“It’s a learning curve for most of them and they will gain an enormous amount of experience competing at international level in this sort of company.”
The top performer was undoubtedly Matthew Crawford, who skipped his rink to three wins - a phenomenal feat in that class of company.
Robert Kirkwood stole show in the opening match, skipping his rink to a whopping 20-shot win against Ross Owen.
Crawford and Daniel O’Kane also racked up wins over Daniel Salmon (22-18) and Jarrad Breen (25-12).
Darren Atkinson battled out a 19-19 draw with Luke Stone.
But the early Irish optimism, however, hit the buffers slightly after lunch.
Atkinson and Crawford again turned in a top performances - by recording wins against Richard O’Malley (26-21) and Jim Mower (20-17) - but that was as good as it got.
Crawford again struck a winning chord in the final match against England, skipping his combination to an impressive 18-14 victory against Nathan Kitchen’s rink.
Kirkwood also ended on a high, with a one-shot (19-18) victory against Martin Heitzman, the latter featuring at this level for the last time.
Heitzman is one of eight players that will go into ‘retirement’ - joined by Ryan Whitlock, Jamie Walker, Michael Coombes, Tom Bishop, Ashley Caress, Lewis Baker and Joe Melmore.
Ireland 128 Wales 115: R Kirkwood 34 14 R Owen, M Crawford 22 D Salmon 18, D O’Kane 25 J Breen 12, W Boyd 15 L Bouse 29, S Kirkwood 13 R Thomas 23, D Atkinson 19 L Stone 19.
Scotland 108 England 113: C Milne 8 M Heitzman 23, J Mower 18 29 N Kitchen, A Barrie 19 M Coombes 23, J Fleming 21 J Walker 16, P Kane jnr 21 R Atkins 13, R O’Malley 21 R Whitlock 9.
England 108 Wales 108: R Atkins 21 R Thomas 16, R Whitlock 19 17 L Stone; M Heitzman 22 R Owen 18, N Kitchen 15 14 D Salmon, M Coombes 12 29 J Breen, J Walker 19 L Bouse 14.
Scotland 150 Ireland 101: P Kane jnr 30 S Kirkwood 12, R O’Malley 21 D Atkinson 26, C Milne 30 R Kirkwood 17, J Mower 17 M Crawford 20, A Barrie 30 D O’Kane 12, J Fleming 22 W Boyd 14.
Scotland 120 Wales 130: A Barrie 22 J Breen 23, J Fleming 29 L Bouse 14, P Kane jnr 27 R Thomas 20, R O’Malley 9 L Stone 22, C Milne 19 R Owen 19, J Mower 14 D Salmon 32.
Ireland 86 England 126: D O’Kane 13 M Coombes 23, W Boyd 16 J Walker 21, S Kirkwood 10 R Atkins 26, D Atkinson 10 R Whitlock 24, R Kirkwood 19 M Heitzman 18, M Crawford 18 N Kitchen 14.
Final positions: 1, England 5pts (45 shot difference); 2, Wales 3pts (-9); 3, Scotland 2pts (34); 4, Ireland 2pts (-76).