Martin O'Neill And Roy Keane On Verge Of Irish Exit

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MARTIN O'NEILL HAS prompted speculation that he is out of the running for the Stoke City job and will remain as Ireland boss for now by confirming his attendance at the annual Soccer Writers' Association of Ireland banquet in Dublin this evening.

And then this week, the Derryman was in the frame for the Stoke City job after Mark Hughes' sacking.

O'Neill undertook a similar tactic before signing his last contract with the FAI in September 2016, where 15 weeks had elapsed before he actually signed a new deal.

The Ireland manager had previously identified Keane as his ideal successor, but maintaining their partnership could offer the number two a straightforward route back into the English club game.

Stoke have had to rejig their managerial wanted list after Gary Rowett signed a new deal on Tuesday night to stay in charge at Derby until 2021 with former Watford boss Quique Sanchez Flores, now in charge of La Liga club Espanyol, emerging as the frontrunner for the Stoke job.

The 65-year-old fits the bill because of his experience at top-flight level and the fact he has always been held in high regard by the Stoke hierarchy.

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Ireland may have only friendlies scheduled until the Uefa Nations Cup kicks off in September, yet the financial risk of losing their Premier League status means the new manager's focus can not be distracted by extra-curricular activities.

All of which leaves the FAI with a sense of regret at not nailing down O'Neill to the contract extension he verbally agreed to last October. The contract was agreed in principle, but O'Neill delayed.

He has also only made a verbal agreement with the FAI to extend his contract to the Euro 2020 campaign which means there would be no issue for the Potters in terms of compensation.

"I can't think of any other Association that would allow their manager to stall in this way", Dunphy told News At One on RTÉ Radio 1.

Despite O'Neill taking time off for a holiday to reflect, fears of him walking away were allayed by his visit to the FAI headquarters before Christmas to plan for 2018 and attend the association's Christmas party.