Stephen Kenny gutted but proud as Dundalk fairytale is ended
Maccabi Tel Aviv 2 Dundalk 1
In the end, the fairytale ran out of chapters. AZ Alkmaar's win in Holland removed the suspense from this game and the victory meant little to the supporters of Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Fittingly, Dundalk finished the year on the offensive, finding one late burst of energy in a game where they struggled for long periods. But Dave McMillan and Ciaran Kilduff were incapable of converting chances that they would have slotted away in the early phase of an extraordinary adventure.
It provided a low conclusion to a journey packed with highs and there was poignancy in their salute to the small band of travelling fans.
"It's not where we wanted to finish but that's the way it is," said boss Stephen Kenny. "I also have to salute the players for their ability to go right to the end. That would have been harsh on Maccabi if we drew but we kept going and that's a very positive trait. The overwhelming feeling is one of disappointment.
"It's been an 11-month season for us and we started it in early January and just finished it now. It's been a long run. For us, it's going to be a short break as we're back in January for the league starting in February. But that (European run) does give the players huge experience.
"This is something we'll have to hopefully gain positive experiences from. For a lot of the players, it's been their first Europa League campaign and some of the players hadn't played that many European games at all, so that was a big plus for us."
Dundalk started this match in a more assured fashion than the limp loss to Alkmaar in Tallaght a fortnight ago, but they undid the good work by gifting the under-pressure hosts an opener.
Brian Gartland tried to round Tal Ben Chaim. He failed and the loose ball fell to Haris Medunjanin who was felled in the area by Gary Rogers. Ben Chaim converted the spot-kick confidently.
To Dundalk's credit, they quickly levelled with a trademark team move. Patrick McEleney cut in from the right and his crisp pass found Chris Shields who sent in a cross that was missed by Daryl Horgan but turned into his own net by covering Maccabi defender Eli Dasa.
But the final goal came seven minutes before the half-time break as Shields was caught on the ball in his own half and Ben Chaim fed skipper Dor Miha, whose weak left-footer trickled through the fingers of Rogers and into the net.
The keeper admitted: "It went through Gartland's legs but I still should have saved it."