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FAI close in on O'Neill


Martin O'Neill is closing in on the Ireland job

Martin O'Neill is closing in on the Ireland job

Martin O'Neill is closing in on the Ireland job

Martin O'Neill is moving closer to being appointed the successor to Giovanni Trapattoni as manager of Ireland.

A deal with the Football Association of Ireland has yet to be formally agreed, Press Association Sport understands, but the 61-year-old former Sunderland, Celtic and Aston Villa boss is looking increasingly favourably on the opportunity to return to management on the international stage.

Bookmakers have suspended betting on O'Neill following a surge in support this week.

And although no announcement is thought to be imminent, indications are that he could deliver his answer within days.

Ireland have two friendlies next month, against Latvia in Dublin on November 15 and Poland in Poznan four days later, and there is an appetite to have matters concluded in time for the new man to take charge for those games.

However, sources close to the FAI have suggested O'Neill will be given more time if he needs it with the association determined to make the right appointment.

Former Northern Ireland international O'Neill emerged as the FAI's top target within days of Trapattoni's departure in September - indeed, he was being touted some time before the Italian parted company with Ireland.

Former Ireland midfielder Ray Houghton and high performance director Ruud Dokter were asked to assess the field and draw up a shortlist of potential candidates.

Mick McCarthy, who took Ireland to the 2002 World Cup finals in the Far East, and his captain - until their infamous fall-out in Saipan - Roy Keane have also been heavily linked with the vacancy.

Intriguingly, the possibility of Keane serving as a number two to O'Neill has also been mooted in Ireland, although he is a man who still divides opinion in his native country.

Businessman Denis O'Brien, who part-funded Trapattoni's five-and-a-half-year reign, has agreed to continue his financial support with the FAI looking to make an eye-catching appointment.

They did just that when they persuaded the much-travelled Trapattoni to take up the challenge of restoring the nation's football fortunes in 2008.

He guided Ireland to the play-offs for the 2010 World Cup and into the Euro 2012 finals via a similar route.

However, a poor showing in Poland and Ukraine heralded the beginning of a decline which has seen the team fail to qualify for next summer's World Cup in Brazil.

Ireland finished a distant fourth in European qualifying Group C behind Germany, Sweden and Austria, as 74-year-old Trapattoni's tenure ended in disappointment.

He made way after successive defeats by the Swedes and the Austrians, and Under-21 boss Noel King took charge for the final two qualifiers against Germany and Kazakhstan last month.

The squad for the upcoming games would usually have been announced late this week or early next, and the fact that no press conference for that purpose has yet been announced suggests the FAI is hoping for a swift conclusion to the recruitment process.