Three years ago, after playing Switzerland in a World Cup Play-Off in Basel, I was feeling exactly the same as the Northern Ireland players today.
Losing a game like that is gut-wrenching, especially when deep down you know it could be your last opportunity of making another major Finals.
You come so close, give your all mentally, physically and emotionally, and yet it is not enough.
I know the effort they put in to try and defeat Slovakia on Thursday night. They gave their absolute everything, so their commitment and desire cannot be questioned. I will never be critical of that.
Obviously it's disappointing that the final ball wasn't better. We made a couple of mistakes and were unlucky for the ball to bounce off Jonny Evans' backside for their second goal, but the game was incredibly even. The same amount of possession and shots on target.
We had their goalkeeper flapping for quite a bit of the second half, but the difference was that they were clinical when opportunities arose.
We struggled with the fine details - not picking up Josh Magennis' knockdowns, playing the ball behind Conor Washington and the keeper being beaten at his near post for the winner when that was the only place he could have shot as anything across goal was being blocked by Evans.
We lost our way in the final third, and on other nights with the Kop full to capacity, they would have sucked a number of those crosses into the net.
Slovakia weren't anything special - Milan Skriniar was strong at the back and Marek Hamsik still possessed his qualities, but I felt we were comfortable, and that will only add to the hurt in the camp.
Now the cold reality hits. With no Euro Finals to look forward to, Northern Ireland are entering a period of transition. Young players need to be blooded and advanced at a greater rate than before.
It's likely to start in Austria tonight and continue on Wednesday against Romania, especially with so many players involved against Slovakia either picking up an injury, having cramp or simply being exhausted.
As I've stated before in this column, it is ridiculous that international teams are asked to play three games in seven days, but it has also forced manager Ian Baraclough to delve deep into his squad and utilise all the players in his panel.
I'm not saying the likes of senior players Steven Davis, Michael McGovern, Niall McGinn, Jonny Evans and Kyle Lafferty are about to call it quits. After all, following the Euro Finals in 2016 and then the Play-Off against Switzerland, there was talk about a raft of retirements, including myself. But only Chris Baird and then Chris Brunt did so. Going into the Euros and the Switzerland Play-Off, retirement wasn't on my mind. There was a lot of noise about it, but none coming from me, and maybe that is the case with the current senior internationals.
Ian, however, still needs to plan ahead. These guys are all in their 30s and, though they may stick around for the World Cup qualifiers which start in March, they'll not be there for the start of the next Euros campaign or Nations League.
So while the senior players remain, it is time to give more international experience to Jordan Thompson, Ethan Galbraith, Alfie McCalmont and Daniel Ballard. I would like to see what St Johnstone's Ali McCann can offer as I've heard decent reports. It's just a pity Jordan has been ruled out through injury tonight.
They may not be ready, possibly undercooked for senior international football, but Northern Ireland don't really have a choice. We can't afford to wait until Davo and Jonny call it a day and then try them out. It needs to be done now.
Ian's experience at Under-21 level will be crucial in this development process. It's a rebuilding job and, sadly, that means some pain along the way. It goes with the territory of transition.
For some of the Northern Ireland regulars, this may hit them hard. There are players in the squad such as Paddy McNair, George Saville, Washington, Jamal Lewis and Bailey Peacock-Farrell who know nothing about the true hardships of international football and what it is like to really graft for those extra yards. They've only known Northern Ireland as a competitive force in qualifying campaigns.
And it's not a bad thing. Believe me, for the likes of Aaron Hughes, Brunt, Baird, Davis, Jonny and Corry Evans, when qualification finally came around it meant so much to us after all the adversity.
As a small country, we have always gone through such cycles.
For instance, my year was particularly good with Hughes, Grant McCann, David Healy and Andy Smith all becoming senior internationals after starting together at Lisburn Youth.
I know a number of teenagers from Northern Ireland have gone over to professional clubs across the water this year but, providing they hit their potential, they'll not be ready for a number of years.
That's where Jim Magilton, as the IFA's Elite Performance Director, becomes a big asset to Ian. He can give him a steer of the next big talent who can make the big jump up to senior football.
While personnel is a major issue, we also need to find our identity again. We used to be a team that was strong from set-pieces and on the counter-attack. We now need to find a way to win again, strip it back down and become a threat again. You have to go back to September last year against Luxembourg at home for our last win and we only came through after an own goal.
Northern Ireland has always been about finding a way to win - or at least coming away with a positive result - with the limited resources available.
Now it must be done with the next generation of players. Elimination from the Euros has forced Ian's hand.
I'm angry and frustrated that children are being denied the opportunity to play football and other outdoor sports during this lockdown period.
I know Northern Ireland has been going through this for the past month, but in England we are only into our second week and already there have been plenty of tears from within the group of young boys I coach after being told that their sessions were cancelled.
I understand why certain restrictions are in place and respect that.
But the kids in my group go to school together, sit in the same classrooms together and take part in physical education during the day but, as soon as the school bell goes, they suddenly have to be kept apart at all costs.
To me, it's about responsibility.
The parents drop their kids off at the pitch and then remain in their cars while everything the boys and girls use has been sanitised.
As coaches, we keep our distance from them while still being able to put on sessions. We work the kids hard and they really enjoy it.
I believe physical fitness is so important to wellbeing, and I recall after the last lockdown ended, even though we'd stressed about doing exercise on their own, the boys returned in horrendous shape. Some of them couldn't run for a short period - they'd just sat about playing their Xbox during lockdown.
Kids desperately need exercise and, as long as it is done in a responsible and controlled environment, I would urge the decision makers to have a serious change of heart and let the kids play.