Captain Katie Mullan spoke of Ireland as “history makers” in defeat as the first female team to represent Ireland at an Olympics saw their campaign end in the Pool stages.
One opening win was followed by four defeats on the bounce as their Olympic dream came to an abrupt halt against Great Britain on Saturday.
International retirements will now follow, injured players will return. So soon after Olympic dejection, thoughts won’t yet turn to further advancements in the women’s programme, namely women’s World Cup qualification in Rome in October.
Ireland’s players firmly believe they are still on an upward trajectory and that World Cup silver in 2018 was not simply a one-off.
Yet there remains the stark reality, that for all the hoopla of their rise over the last three years that they looked the shadow of the London side at the recent EuroHockey, while goals were at a premium in Tokyo.
“We always aim high and we always want to break boundaries and the aim was a quarterfinal, so it leaves us hungry hopefully for Paris (2024),” said Mullan, who at 27 can still spearhead the side towards the next Olympics.
“We did ourselves proud, we did our country proud and there’s a number of the girls that probably this was their last international game with us, so emotional in that sense. The end of an era.
“We’re actually history-makers in the sense we’re the first female team in any sport to represent Ireland, so that’s huge for us and I don’t really think that will fully sink in until we do go home and hopefully get a nice warm welcome from everyone at home.”
Following India’s dramatic 4-3 win over South Africa earlier on Saturday, the Green Army went into the GB clash knowing that only a victory would do.
But they couldn’t make inroads, despite making life tough for the Olympic champions.
“I’m devastated. I’m so proud of the girls and all the effort they put in,” said goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran. “I can’t fault it and I’m proud to pull on the green jersey. I’m devastated our journey has to end now as this group. I believe we have so much more but yeah, it’s tough right now.”
Coach Sean Dancer’s contract ran until the end of the Tokyo Olympics, and it is yet unknown if he will continue in the role, while Hannah McLoughlin admitted that they would use the Olympic experience as fuel to push on as a women’s programme.
“We have proven we can compete with the best countries in the world,” said McLoughlin, who scored in the 4-2 defeat by Germany. “This is my first taste of that and I am going to take that forward, not play with any fear.
“The thing I took from the Olympic Village was how other people are so intrigued by us. We are out on the grass, not caring what we look like, having fun and others start to join in, saying ‘God, we just love the Irish’.
“It’s only this tournament I really notice there is no other team in this tournament or the world who I would want to be part of; one that’s as open, as fun, as accepting as this 19 individuals. The whole experience has been unbelievable.”