Ireland came up just short in their European playoff
Ireland U-21 manager Jim Crawford has described their Euro play-off penalty shootout defeat as a 'punch in the stomach'.
The Boys in Green went into Tuesday's second-leg against Israel hoping to make history, as no Irish side had ever qualified for a major tournament at the age grade.
Derry's Brian Maher produced a wonderful stop to deny Idan Gorno's effort early on, beforethe Israeli forward spectacularly missed an open goal after the break.
The sides couldn't be separated after 120 minutes, but three missed spot-kicks by Tyreik Wright, Evan Ferguson and Dawson Devoy allowed Osher Davida to strike the winner, and break Irish hearts after a gruelling performance in Tel Aviv.
"That's football for you, it can be cruel at times," Crawford said.
"It's a real punch in the stomach for the players. All I can say is that the future, certainly in the short to mid-term, looks really promising. The players did their parents, country, and clubs proud. It's a great group from one to 25. As you saw at the end, everyone is together and devastated for one another. We set out to establish a real teamship and we certainly got that. I couldn't be more proud of the players out there."
The Ireland boss reflected on the heartbreaking shootout, and while his side practised penalties all week leading up to the second-leg, he insisted nothing can prepare you for the pressure in the 30,000 seater Bloomfield Stadium.
"You can practice penalties all you want in Abbotstown, but nothing compares to the pressure that was on these players," Crawford added.
"Every fan was whistling and booing when they were stepping up. You'd like these players to learn from that experience. It was back against the wall for large portions of the game and expected that.
"It probably goes back to the first-leg where we missed the guilt-edged chances. Had we scored them, it would have put us in a really strong position coming out here. We caused them some concern because Israel dropped down three senior players. Israel knew the threat we posed."
The draw for the finals will be held on October 18 in Bucharest, while the tournament takes place in Romania and Georgia between June 21 and July 8 next year.