Warren Gatland could not sign off with a victory in his final home match in Cardiff, but insisted that Wales will head out to the Rugby World Cup in Japan as the best squad of his 12-year tenure with designs on the knockout stages.
In his pre-match interview with broadcasters Channel 4, Gatland admitted to becoming overcome with emotion at the team hotel prior before making the short journey to the Principality Stadium. He saluted an "incredible ride and incredible journey with players and management", also paying tribute to the country of Wales.
However, Ireland, and particularly their powerful pack, were in no mood for charity. A flurry of scrum penalties helped carve out a 22-3 lead for the visitors close to the hour-mark with a revitalised Jacob Stockdale scoring a pair of opportunistic tries, the second coming after Aaron Shingler's errant offload went to ground.
Ireland had added a penalty try as another Wales set piece disintegrated, and Gatland promised to pay close attention to the scrum in his review. Without hiding his disappointment, he labelled the afternoon as a "good exercise" ahead of retiring to finalise his 31-man group for Japan, which will be announced on Sunday afternoon.
"I'm happy with a lot that we got out of today," he said. "This group of players never give up. We were creators of our own downfall at times."
The chief injury concern as Gatland mulls his selection will be lock Cory Hill, who has a leg fracture that may keep him out until the third pool match against Australia in Tokyo. Ross Moriarty is expected to feature despite pulling out of Saturday's defeat before kick-off due to a hip complaint. Whichever individuals make the cut, Gatland will be confident.
"I think it's the best squad in terms of the depth we've got," he added. "We've got an excellent forward group, some real leadership and experience.
"We have some nines that are continuing to develop. If we do pick up a few injuries like we did in 2015, I think we'd be able to cope so much better now.
"The expectation from ourselves is that we'll be very disappointed if we don't make the quarter-finals and that's step one."
Gatland had billed the Ireland encounter as a shoot-out for the second of two fly-half slots, with Jarrod Evans starting and Rhys Patchell among the replacements. Patchell arrived at half-time and made a number of bright contributions, including a tackle on Chris Farrell that forced a spill in the shadow of Wales' posts and a well-taken try that gave the hosts a chance of an unlikely comeback win.
The role of Dan Biggar's deputy will be one of "probably six positions" to be debated tonight, but Gatland did not suggest that Evans' early exit would prove terminal for his Rugby World Cup prospects.
"There's no doubt that Rhys came on and did a good job," Gatland added. "But it's a hell of a lot easier coming off the bench when there's no pressure on you.
"It was hard for Jarrod in the first half when the team isn't going as well as it could."