(Slovan win 4-1 on aggregate)
The final light went out on the League of Ireland's European involvement as a streetwise and clinical Slovan Bratislava extinguished Dundalk’s Europa League hopes in Tallaght.
Vinny Perth’s men trailed 1-0 from the first leg of this third-round qualifier and the head coach had promised to give his men "license to be braver".
Ultimately, their gung-ho approach from the off backfired as the visitors picked them apart, first-half goals from Rafael Ratao and Aleksander Cavric giving the Lilywhites a huge mountain to climb.
They went down fighting in a gutsy second period. Michael Duffy’s goal in the 71st minute gave them hope and had Pat Hoban scored a penalty, awarded for a handball just 60 seconds later, we could have witnessed an extraordinary finale.
He didn’t, visiting keeper Dominik Greiff saving the strike with his legs and pouring cold water on any lingering hopes of a comeback.
In injury-time, Erik Daniel slammed home another Slovan goal after a fluid break. Harsh, but indicative of their ruthlessness on the night.
The Slovakians now progress to a meeting with PAOK in a play-off for the group stages.
For Dundalk, it’s back to domestic duties and the challenge of retaining their title.
Perth named the same side that had started in Slovakia while Slovan travelled without lively Moroccan Moha Rharsalla, ruled out with a stomach bug. Hungarian international David Holman, who scored the only goal at the Tehelne Pole Stadium, started despite picking up a knock in Saturday's 4-0 league defeat of Zlate Moravce.
He would make his presence felt.
Tallaght Stadium fizzed with enthusiasm in the early stages, the Dundalk faithful responding to Perth's appeal for passion after Slovan’s hardcore fans created a hostile environment six days ago.
The hosts were pumped up. Jamie McGrath’s half-volley into the turf forced Greif into a decent two-handed save with less a minute on the clock; Shields and Murray gobbled up ground and tackles.
On five minutes however, a warning. Andy Boyle tried to shepherd the ball back to Gary Rogers, Andraz Sporar snuck around his blindside and when the loose ball spilled to Holman, only a desperate Boyle block on the line prevented Slovan from breaking the deadlock.
Dundalk toiled but their opponents looked razor sharp on the counter. In the 12th minute, they got their goal.
Sporar scampered on to a long ball down the right channel before standing up a terrific cross for Ratao at the back post. His cushioned header skidded past the outstretched Rogers. One-nil Slovan.
Now Dundalk needed to score three but Ratao’s effort only served to settle Slovan further. The excellent Holman came close to stretching their advantage with a relaxed 20-yard curler in the 18th-minute that whistled past Rogers’ right-hand post.
He was running riot, continuously gathering possession in the pocket between attack and midfield, always searching for the giddy runs of Sporar who looked a different player to the slightly subdued figure who failed to catch fire a week ago.
Dundalk huffed and puffed. Shields' fierce angled drive caught a Slovan boot and drew a fine stop from Greif, then Hoban took a tumble as he grappled with centre-half Leo Myenty Janna Abena.
The home fans screamed for a penalty; referee Robert Schorgenhofer gave a free out. Frustration mounted. Dundalk kept pushing, Slovan sucked it all up.
Murray almost gave his side a lifeline with a low bending effort from the left side of the box that skipped inches wide on the half-hour mark but ,11 minutes before the break, Slovan hammered home a second.
Boyle once again misjudged a punt down the middle and this time Aleksander Cavric got around the defender to lift a good finish past the stranded Rogers.
Murray walloped in a low free-kick from the edge of the area in response that was brilliantly clawed away by Greif, but the opposing threat was never blunted.
Holman could – should – have got another when he side-footed over a close-range volley with 40 minutes on the clock, and Dundalk looked a beaten docket as they trudged into the dressing rooms at the break.
Patrick McEleney and Sean Hoare replaced Murray and Dan Cleary for the second half as Dundalk tried to at least peg a goal back. It's to their credit that they didn’t throw in the towel.
As dark clouds settled over Tallaght, the Dundalk fans sang in the rain.
Their team responded. McEleney, Duffy and Hoban all buzzed with intent, with Hoare going close just before the hour mark when he drilled in a lovely strike that Greif acrobatically tipped around the post.
Dundalk deserved a goal and, with 20 minutes to go, they got one. The tireless Hoban squeezed a low cross back into the path of Duffy and he drove in a low strike which skidded to the net via a slight deflection.
A minute later, pandemonium. Tallaght, long resigned to defeat, suddenly woke up as Duffy’s strike in the box struck a Slovan hand. Penalty, but the hysteria was deflated when Hoban’s spot-kick straight down the middle was stopped by Greif’s legs.
That was that. Hope and energy drained from Perth’s men thereafter, and as the Slovan fans danced in the Dublin drizzle substitute Daniel rubbed salt into the wounds with a fine injury-time finish from the right side of the area.
It’s small margins at this level and Dundalk will be left with plenty of regrets after individual errors and crucial misses ultimately cost them over both legs.
The European dream ends for another year.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Chris Shields, Michael Duffy, John Mountney, Patrick Hoban (capt), Jamie McGrath (Georgie Kelly 79), Dane Massey, Sean Murray (McEleney ht), Daniel Cleary (Sean Hoare ht), Andy Boyle
Slovan Bratislava: Dominik Greif, Joeri de Kamps, Marin Ljubicic, Andraz Sporar, Leo Myenty Janna Abena, Jurji Medvedev (Mitch Apau 65), Rafael Ratao (Artyem Sukhotskiy 84), David Holman, Vasil Bozhikov (capt), Aleksander Cavric (Erik Daniel 61), Vernon de Marco
Referee: Robert Schorgenhofer (Austria)