Two goals just before and after the break were enough for Italy to claim a 2-1 home win at the Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia.
It was a FIFA Women’s World Cup warm-up game for the Italians, but the Irish women will have taken a lot from the fixture which saw them lead for most of the first half.
And Ireland could have secured the draw just before the final whistle when substitute Amber Barrett almost made it 2-2 on the 87th minute, but saw her effort cleared off the line by the Italians.
With just three minutes on the clock, McCabe upset Italian plans when Denise O’Sullivan made the most of crossed wires in the opposition defence to pass into her captain who made no mistake in putting her shot away.
They held out until just five minutes before the break when Juventus midfielder Barbara Bonansea drew it level for Italy, much to the delight of a good crowd in the northern Italian city.
And they secured the winner on the 53rd minute, with Milan ace Daniela Sabatino making the most of an Irish error to put her team ahead.
WNT Head Coach Colin Bell was disappointed that his team did not get a positive result from the game and feels his side need to be more clinical.
Bell said: “I’m really disappointed because after the performance, we should have got a result. There were phases where Italy were very strong, the first half particularly, maybe after the second half where they increased the pressure and moved the ball fast, but that’s expected.
“But we got off to a great start and then we had another counter-attack that we should have, and could have, finished to make it 2-0 – we had them. We had free-kicks and Megan’s (Campbell) throw that we didn’t utilise. They were decisive situations and we didn’t capitalise on the mistakes that Italy made, or when we had good play. And then we make a mistake for the first goal and then in the second half again we make a poor mistake, get drawn out of position in the box and (Daniela) Sabatino puts the ball in the net.”
And Bell added that even after the two Italian goals, he felt his side could have still got at least a draw from the tie.
He said: “We got ourselves back in the game and for the last 15 or 20 minutes we dominated, and we had free-kicks, corners and throws when Megan (Campbell) was on and we had plenty of chances that we didn’t use. So, it’s difficult for us. The performance, the intensity, the tactical decisions for large parts of the game were good, but we didn’t take our chances and we have to learn from that.”
Republic of Ireland: Marie Hourihan; Claire O'Riordan, Megan Connolly, Louise Quinn, Megan Campbell (Diane Caldwell 68), Harriet Scott; Niamh Fahey (Rianna Jarrett 81), Tyler Toland (Emily Whelan 90), Denise O’Sullivan, Leanne Kiernan (Amber Barrett 71), Katie McCabe.
Italy: Laura Giuliani, Greta Adami, Elena Linari, Manuela Giugliano, Alia Guagni (Elisa Bartoli), Daniela Sabatino (Martina Rosucci), Ilaria Mauro, Lisa Boattin, Barbara Bonansea, Aurora Galli, Valentina Cernoia.
Referee: Sara Persson (Sweden).