Football: Understudies display talent

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WHILE SOME of the Republic of Ireland's leading performers rested between engagements this week, their understudies took the chance to show the depth of talent available to Mick McCarthy may be greater than he realised. The bonus was to inflict a 2-0 defeat on Sweden, who, as their next Euro 2000 opponents, England, know, have performed as well as almost any country over the first half of the qualifying competition.

Losing five players to injuries, agreeing to take off three more at half- time and resting another two until the last quarter of the game, McCarthy must have wondered how well the Irish would come out of Wednesday's engagement; all the more so after a first 45 minutes in which they created one scoring chance. In fact, it was once the reserves had taken centre stage that a plodding production turned into something more vibrant, with an unlikely cast list finally bringing the audience to their feet.

Stoke's Graham Kavanagh, a greying 25 year-old from the Second Division, Kevin Kilbane of West Bromwich Albion and Nancy's Tony Cascarino, 36, iall won applause with their contributions. There was a welcome break too for Mark Kennedy.

In defence Kenny Cunningham confirmed what McCarthy has known from their days together at Millwall, that he can play as capably in the centre as at right-back, a position Tottenham's Stephen Carr suggested he could fill in the longer term. Carr is one of those must be looking forward to the move away from Lansdowne Road's rugby pitch to Dublin's proposed new stadium.

The Dublin football public clearly appreciate the quality and commitment of the squad, echoed by McCarthy when he said: "I'm so delighted at the squad that turned up here, and players coming in wanting to play, even with little knocks and niggles. I really was."