Ireland surpassed expectations with their performance in Parramatta
Ireland coach Andy Kelly said his players could hold their heads up high after slipping to a 22-20 defeat against Tonga in the World Cup.
The Wolfhounds were written off in many quarters, but they pushed Tonga every step of the way before falling to a narrow defeat in Parramatta.
"I'm tremendously proud of the way we fronted up to a Tongan steamroller," Kelly told BBC Radio 5 Live.
"It was always going to be a physical game but we matched their physicality."
The lead changed hands seven times, with Ireland getting their noses in front with just 12 minutes to go only to concede a late try from Esikele Tonga.
It was a thrilling contest which could have gone either way, and Kelly said his players would respond positively in their second Group C game against Samoa on 5 November.
"It's not much consolation to have been part of such a good game, but we have got to take the positives and go again against Samoa - we've shown we're capable of rising to the challenge," he said.
"Neither side ever got two tries ahead - if we had I think we'd have found them wanting a little bit. As it turned out they had enough resolve to get back on top of us but I'm so proud of my players."
Ireland were given virtually no chance going into the game, and Kelly said the criticism had acted as a source of motivation for his players.
"We were a little bit insulted," said Kelly.
"If you look at the experience we have got in our team, for people to write us off as making up the numbers was a little bit foolish and I think it stung the boys' pride a little bit.
"That was the reaction and they still want to prove that they're good enough to get to the semi-final play-off but now the onus is on somebody else to do us a favour.
"The game against Samoa is going to be a mighty clash."
Ireland winger Damien Blanch grabbed a hat-trick of tries as his side went desperately close to a famous victory.
"It was great to get a hat-trick, but devastating to lose in those circumstances," he said.
Our discipline was a bit scratchy but we weren't used to some of the interpretations of the referee
Meanwhile, Tonga coach Jim Dymock said he had always expected a tough challenge from Ireland, although he admitted the desperately close battle was not good for his nerves.
"Ireland didn't surprise me at all. They came out and, to their credit, they gave it a go," said Dymock.
"It's lucky I've got no hair. I was up there praying at the end. I thought it was going to be the luck of the Irish but thankfully we came through and hopefully we can play better against Samoa."
Tonga had two players sent to the sin-bin, while the penalty count was massively in Ireland's favour with referee Steve Ganson penalising them at the ruck time and time again.
"It was a tough game, especially to play 20 minutes with 12 men," added Dymock.
"Our discipline was a bit scratchy but we weren't used to some of the interpretations of the referee. Hopefully we can learn from that game."