The greatest legend ever to pull on the Ireland rugby shirt - Willie John McBride - says the current team “gave everything” before being put out of the Rugby World Cup yesterday by Argentina.
Argentina dumped the greens out of the competition for the third time as a 10-minute, two-try salvo floored Joe Schmidt’s battered and shattered side at the Millennium Stadium in Wales.
The Pumas ended Ireland’s sixth quarter-final 43-20, breaking the hearts of countless green hearts in clubs and pubs across the land.
Shorn of indomitable leaders Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony through injury and without linchpin fly-half Johnny Sexton due to groin trouble, this was a match too far for Ireland.
But Ballymena man Willie John McBride said it was clear that Ireland had given everything – and that the best team had won.
“It was always going to be a tough game – they were playing with four or five of their best players off the field and Argentina were just better and the best team won,” he told the News Letter.
Asked how he felt about the result, he said: “I think we were all disappointed with the injuries. But that is one of the things.”
Willie John played 63 times for Ireland 11 times as captain, however will forever be associated with the British and Irish Lions, with whom he toured five times and won 17 caps. He was a key member of winning tours of New Zealand in 1971 and South Africa in 1974, which he captained.
In such a prolonged competition as the World Cup, he said, each team has to play week-by-week and deal with the gradual toll on players.
“We just don’t have those reserves in depth” he said of the Irish team, compared to some others.
“But the guys gave everything they had and you can’t ask for more. However you can’t play without some of your best players particularly Sexton and O’Connell, though the rest [of those injured] were important too.
“They were going to be up against it from last Sunday.”
He noted that Argentina had rested ten of their best players during their game against Namibia last Sunday while Ireland had to field their strongest players for their victory against France on the same day. The result was the Pumas had a much fresher team for yesterday’s clash.
“All those things add up. However Ireland still put in a great performance and well done to them.”
Other global elite sports stars also mourned the loss.
Golfer Rory McIlroy said on Twitter: “You’ve done your country proud @IrishRugby. Just wasn’t meant to be... All credit to Argentina, immense all over the pitch today!”
Fellow golfer Darren Clarke added: “Gutted for Ireland @IRFURugby but in fairness Argentina were brilliant today!”
And boxer Carl Frampton repeatedly cheered “Come on Ireland!!!” but was too disappointed with the outcome to have tweeted his conclusion.