Gary Connaughton reporting from Tallaght Stadium
The Italian job? In many senses this was job done for Ireland, a point at home against the top side in the group. Considering how Irish U21 teams have tended to fare in recent years, such results are rare.
But then again, this Irish team are not like most others.
If this match had been scored like in boxing, there would only have been one winner. Ireland applied the pressure, keeping the visitors on the back foot for the vast majority. Of course there was plenty fight back from the Italians, but this was Ireland's game. Unfortunately, they never landed that knockout punch.
Much has been made of the quality of Stephen Kenny's young side, and rightly so. They went into last night having won all three of their qualifiers thus far, as well as the impressive showing in Toulon during the summer.
While they may not have won in Tallaght, we can now rest easy knowing that this batch of players are indeed the real deal.
The fact that we came away from last night slightly deflated should tell you all you need to know. After all, this was an Italian team stacked with star quality. Moise Kean joined Everton for £27.5million during the summer, while Patrick Cutrone moved to Wolves for £16.5million. Neither started last night's game.
Luca Pellegrini was outstanding at left back, a 20-year old so talented that Juventus showed no hesitation in handing out €22million to bring him to Turin despite having only 16 first team appearances under his belt. Many of these lads have already played for the Italian senior team.
Despite this, they were outplayed by Ireland. All of the technical proficiency that this team have been praised for under Stephen Kenny was there. They kept the ball, while also playing forward incisive passes. The movement was remarkable to watch, and the defence was every bit as good with the ball at their feet as they were in their defensive duties.
Jayson Molumby is the type of midfielder Ireland have been crying out for this entire decade. He can do absolutely everything, both in possession and out of it. He's a real leader too.
Adam Idah completely dominated a strong Italian defence, they genuinely didn't know how to handle his combination of speed and power. Troy Parrott was asked to perform a different role wide on the left, and he could have scored twice despite having a quiet game.
Lee O'Connor, Conor Coventry, Conor Masterson, and Darragh O'Shea all put in strong performances as well. Michael Obafemi couldn't even make the starting XI, but was electric upon his introduction.
There was one aspect of last night's game that may stand out above all others. We know this team can play football, but they match their technical proficiency with a fire and desire to win.
The Italy game was a fiery affair. Tensions began to boil over towards the end of the first half, with a number of clashes taking place between both sets of players.
Jayson Molumby was unhappy with a wayward elbow from Sandro Tonali in an aerial duel and he wasn't afraid to let him know about it. When the Italian defender came back at him with a few choice words, it wasn't too long before Connor Ronan stepped in, providing one of the best sports photos of the year in the process.
There were a number of similar altercations throughout the game, one of which resulted in red cards for Troy Parrott and Moise Kean.
It was harsh on both players in truth, but it typified the battling spirit of the clash.
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) October 10, 2019
Most Ireland teams of the 21st century have had that heart and fight in abundance, but often lacked the technical quality to match those traits. While we knew about this team's footballing qualities, last night showed that other side to them.
This is a team that can play football with the best of them, but can get down and dirty with it too. It's a potentially deadly combination. They believed themselves to be every bit as good as the Italians, and they were proved to be correct.
Stephen Kenny has moulded a togetherness and identity that is often hard to come by at underage international level, especially on these shores. It's no trouble for this lot, they are a true team in every sense of the word.
You may claim that this is an overreaction to a game that Ireland didn't even win, but that would be to miss the point. The fact that this is one we come away disappointed from speaks volumes. Standards have been set.
All of this leaves us incredibly excited with what is to come, not only for the rest of this qualification campaign, but the long-term future of Irish football. Stephen Kenny is doing a magnificent job and we can't wait to see what he does with the senior team.
Based on their performances over the last few months, you can guarantee there will be quite a few lads from this squad brought straight in with him. If they display half of the qualities they have shown at U21 level, they're going to have a hell of an impact.
We can't wait. The future is bright...