Shamrock Rovers are out of the Champions League after FC Copenhagen taught Michael O’Neill’s side a salutary lesson with a 2-0 win in Tallaght.
Rovers lost 3-0 at aggregate but it might have been a different story after Chris Turner’s header thundered off the bar in only the 18th minute of the second leg with the game still scoreless.
Dame N’Doye and Christian Bolanos scored either side of half-time but Rovers now go into the final qualifying round of the Europa League.
Hoops boss O’Neill said: “I think anyone who watched both legs would say the scoreline did not reflect the manner of the two games to be honest.
“I think the players deserve enormous credit to come in and perform the way they did, particularly in the first-half, and it was just disappointing for us to lose a goal of that nature.
“For a lot of our players this has been their first experience of playing Champions League football and they can only benefit from that.
“It is a harsh lesson for us at this level and the level of the caliber of player you are playing against.
There is no respite for the players mentally. For us to progress in this competition we have to be at our best for 90 minutes over two legs and even at times that might not be enough.”
Rovers will go into the hat for the play-off round of the Europa League in Friday’s draw then face Dublin rivals Bohemians at Dalymount Park later that night.
“I think if we go back and analyze the game maybe in the cold light of day we will see there were a lot of positives,” added O’Neill.
“For 25 minutes I thought we were excellent. We started the game exactly as we set out to, trying to unsettle them and obviously we had chances, the Chris Turner one in particular, and if that goes in the balance of the tie changes somewhat.
“I think the goal that came did so very much against the run of play. It kind of just knocked the stuffing out of us a little bit from a belief point of view.
“While we tried everything possible in the second half to try to change the course of the tie, I think the players knew deep down it was going to be very difficult.
“To be fair the tie has hinged on key moments. To lose the goal first of all in Copenhagen and from a set-piece and to lose a goal here from a set-piece, it is difficult for us to take at this moment in time.
“But from a performance view and in terms of what we have learnt from it as a club and also as a group of players, it is going to be invaluable to us going forward not only in Europe but also in games in the league campaign.”