Republic of Ireland Under-21 manager Jim Crawford has paid tribute to his players after they agonisingly missed out on qualification to the European Championships.

Crawford's group had already made history by becoming the first U21 side to reach a play-off but their hopes of reaching the Championships were cruelly dashed ended on Tuesday evening following a 1-3 defeat on penalties to Israel in Tel Aviv.

That defeat marked the end of an era as 16 members of the current squad will be ineligible to play in the next U21s campaign, with the likes of Aaron Connolly, Andy Lyons and Will Smallbone all bidding farewell to the underage scene.

Reflecting on the campaign Crawford said: "I always look at what we could always do better but for me the highs far outweigh the lows. A first play-off at U21s level, then you look at Conor Coventry gaining record caps for the Ireland U21s and Lee O’Connor now second in that chart.

"Then you have Brian Maher with a record number of clean-sheets in a campaign – they are great moments you reflect on.

"There are certain players who are now finished with Under-21s football and the next step is the senior team and I wish them nothing but the best in international football.

"There are a lot of really good characters leaving us, which is a pity because I would have loved to have extended our time together and got to the finals.

"I think it’s a measure of the bond of this group that players who were not in the squad were messaging us with support and then lifting the players after Tuesday – it’s a special group."

"Myself and the staff had a design and strategy to bring in younger lads that are going to be instrumental in the next campaign.

"We had Bosun Lawal in with us last year in Marbella. We brought in Andy Moran - who has high potential, Joe Hodge played a big part in these play-off games, Ollie O'Neill has been a significant player for us and kicked us off on that winning streak that helped us get to the play-offs.

"Any of these players involved have earned their place, we're not giving away U21s caps to anyone, you have to earn them and they have deserved their call-ups."