Even more admirable for Noel King’s new-look side was them managing the landslide in Casarano despite finishing with nine men and surviving two floodlight failures.
Defeat against Hungary last Thursday ended Ireland’s qualification hopes and they also lost their star turn Brady to the senior ranks. However, an Irish side featuring six players making their first starts at this level inflicted the only defeat in eight on Italy.
“This has to be amongst the finest ever achievements in Irish football,” gushed King afterwards.
“It’s certainly the best feat of a team I’ve managed.”
Ireland hit the front midway through the first half. Samir Carruthers slipped debutant Sean Murray into space on the right; the angle appeared tight but the Watford winger chipped Mattia Perin from the edge of the box.
Italy hit back on 35 minutes when a corner from AC Milan winger Stephan El Shaarawy was headed home by skipper Luca Caldirola.
Sixty seconds later, Derrick Williams was sent off for felling Ciro Immobile in the box yet Aaron McCarey saved the spot-kick from the Genoa striker.
Down to 10 men, Ireland still upped the ante after the break.
Two goals in a minute gave them momentum. Conor Henderson became the lead character in the 58th minute by setting up Aaron Doran to race clear and finish, before the Arsenal midfielder netted a superb long-range strike for 3-1.
Floodlight failure caused a 25-minute delay but Doran sparked the tie back into life by extending the lead eight minutes from full-time. He skinned his marker Masi on the left and lofted the ball into the net.
In stoppage time Anthony Forde followed Williams off the pitch for two swift bookings before El Shaarawy pocketed a consolation.
ITALY: Perin; Faraoni, Masi, Rossi, Crescenzi; Sala, Caldirola, Marrone; Immobile, Gabbiadini, El Shaarawy.
Subs: Viviani for Sala (h/t) De Luca for Immobile (58 mins), Laribi for Marrone (76 mins).
IRELAND: McCarey (Wolves); Doherty (Wolves), Egan (Sunderland), Williams (Aston Villa), White (Leeds United); Carruthers (Aston Villa), Henderson (Arsenal), O’Kane (Bournemouth); Murray (Watford), Doran (Inverness), Forde (Wolves).
Referee: Ivan Kruliak (SVK).