Peter O’Mahony believes Ireland’s beaten World Cup squad have “left Irish rugby in a better place” as he left question marks hanging over his own Test future.
Saturday evening’s heartbreaking 28-24 quarter-final defeat to New Zealand in Paris crushed the dreams of Andy Farrell’s men to mark the end of an era.
Captain Johnny Sexton and wing Keith Earls are confirmed as heading into retirement, with O’Mahony one of 17 members of his country’s 33-man squad aged 30 or over.
The Munster captain, who won his 100th cap against Scotland last weekend, is excited by the potential of the next generation but is unsure whether he will continue at international level.
“There’s a great group of young players there,” said the 34-year-old.
“Lots of players who aren’t here but who were in our squad can step up to the plate as well. I’ve no doubt this team will have left Irish rugby in a better place.
“We’ve achieved a huge amount – there’s no other way of putting it. There’s disappointment, obviously, but I think we can be proud of where we’ve left the jersey.
“It’s about honouring the jersey and I think this group have left it in a good place.
“Will I come back? We’ll see. It’s a tough one to take, as a lot of my friends won’t be back, so I’ve a contract to the end of the year and we’ll see how we go after that.”
Ireland looked to have their best opportunity for World Cup glory.
Farrell’s side had topped the global rankings since securing a historic tour success over the All Blacks last summer, a period which included a Six Nations Grand Slam and a 17-match winning run.
But once again, they fell at the quarter-final hurdle.
Speaking of Sexton and Earls, flanker O’Mahony said: “It’s tough to lose these guys in these tough circumstances. I’ve spent a lot of time with himself (Earls) and Johnny obviously.
“Probably every one of my caps had one or two of them in it, if not all of them. It’s tough to lose fellas like that – big characters, big players for us.
“Most importantly, big people, the best type of people, fellas who have your back all the time, good friends of mine, so it’s tough to say goodbye to them.
“It is the end of an era. You’ve a group of senior players who are moving on. There’s no other way of putting it.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) October 14, 2023
“There’s a group of guys who won’t play for Ireland again who’ve had an incredible impact on Irish rugby.”
O’Mahony, who won the first of his 101 Ireland caps in 2012 and represented the British and Irish Lions in 2017, felt the dejected post-match atmosphere was the “toughest” he has faced.
Yet he also put the disappointment into perspective.
“Andy spoke really well, about how proud we should be of the last few years,” he said.
“I thought he was very professional and very positive to be fair. It’s a tough dressing room, probably the toughest I’ve been in, to be honest.
“It’s a terribly tough pill to swallow. But look, there’s worse things going on in the world. We’ll understand that over the next 24 to 48 hours.
“I’m sure there’s lots of kids who we’ve inspired to take up the game and who might be in this position in 15 to 20 years’ time and you can look back and be proud of that.”
By Ed Elliot, PA, Paris
Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website Beat102103.com.