The Republic of Ireland U19 side exited the UEFA U19 Championships at the Elite Qualifying Round stage after a 3-1 loss to holders Serbia at Tallaght Stadium.
Paul Doolin’s side produced a spirited display but ultimately succumbed to the strongest side in the group. Although Turkey beat Iceland 4-3 in the other game in the group, Serbia will go to the final in Hungary next month.
Serbia looked sharp from the off. In the eighth minute a cross by Andrija Živkovic was tipped onto his own crossbar by Irish keeper Eric Grimes.
Leeds United keeper Grimes was impressive throughout the tournament and he was at his best today. He showed his quality in the 23rd minute when he raced out to save at the feet of Veljko Simic.
Ireland had a chance on the break moments later with Sam Byrne laying the ball off for Alex O'Hanlon but the Liverpool midfielder’s low shot pulls just wide of the Serbian upright.
Serbia had a big chance in the 26th minute when Sergej Milinkovic Savic fired in a powerful free-kick from the edge of that box that was blocked by Kyle McFadden and when the ball rebounded to the same Serb player his volley whistled just wide.
Two minutes later an impressive burst down the right flank by Dylan Connolly saw his cross deflected and despite a diving effort Sam Byrne could only head wide on the stretch.
Serbia grabbed the lead in the 36th minute. Some hesitant defending saw the ball arrive at the feet of Veljko Simic after a slip pass by Nemanja Maksimovic and the striker slotted home into the bottom corner.
Ireland suffered a hammer blow just 40 seconds into the second half when again they allowed the Serbs get a simple scoring opportunity and Staniša Mandic turned the ball home from close range.
The ever-dangerous Veljko Simic then had a shot from a tight angle parried by Grimes in the 53rd minute while sixty seconds later Nemanja Maksimovic rattled an upright with a stunning strike from the edge of the box.
Grimes had to do well to keep out another Simic effort in the 61st minute after a clever burst in from the left.
Ireland had a chance to pull one back in the 64th minute when Dylan Connolly came close with a low strike across the goal face.
Three minutes later it was 3-0 when the ball was slammed home from close range by Simic. Ireland pulled it back to 3-1 in the 69th minute when Sam Byrne fired home brilliantly into top corner from a free-kick.
Despite increased enthusiasm from the home side, the Serbs held out and Grimes had to make another impressive stop in the 78th minute to deny Staniša Mandic.
Republic of Ireland: Eric Grimes, Noe Baba, Kyle McFadden, Sean Long, Dylan Barnett, Alan Browne, Dylan Connolly, Alex O’Hanlon, Colm Crowe, Steven McCarthy, Sam Byrne. Subs: Ryan Robinson for Crowe 46 mins; Ryan Goldsmith for O'Hanlon 46; Alan O’Sullivan for McCarthy 84.
Serbia: Vanja Milinkovic Savic, Milan Gajic, Sergej Milinkovic Savic, Miladin Stevanovic, Srdan Babic, Veljko Simic, Nemanja Maksimovic, Staniša Mandic, Andrija Živkovic, Mihailo Ristic, Saša Zdjelar. Subs: Mijat Gacinovic for Simic 70; Radovan Pankov for Mandic 86.