After overseeing his last game in charge of Rovers — the 4-0 Europa League defeat to Spurs — O’Neill was the final candidate to be interviewed by the IFA in Belfast last week and has now emerged as the association’s preferred choice ahead of his two main rivals for the job, fellow former Northern Ireland internationals Iain Dowie and Jim Magilton. It remains to be seen if Magilton — who joined O’Neill in the dugout at Tallaght in his final season there — will now end up renewing his association with O’Neill in an international capacity.
O’Neill, who was capped 33 times for the North, enjoyed a long playing career after starting out with Irish League side Coleraine, including spells at Newcastle United, Hibs and Dundee United.
After his cutting his managerial teeth with Brechin City in Scotland, he was the surprise choice for manager at Shamrock Rovers, his arrival coinciding with a new era for the club as they finally set up home in Tallaght.
Huge success ensued with Rovers winning back-to-back titles and the Setanta Cup under O’Neill’s guidance, but it was his outstanding success this year in helping them become the first League of Ireland side to qualify for the group stage of European competition which really increased his profile and made him an attractive proposition for the IFA as the successor to Nigel Worthington.
While O’Neill takes the next step in his career, Rovers are still awaiting a final decision from Derry City’s Stephen Kenny before they can confirm him as the new man in charge at Tallaght. Both parties are understood to be keen for the move to go through but given the upheaval which a move south would entail for Kenny’s family, there is clearly still some work to be done.
Kenny, 40, himself a native of Tallaght, was in the running for the Rovers job before O’Neill was appointed three years ago, and has built a strong reputation for himself as manager of Bohemians and Derry.
Meanwhile, confounding earlier reports that Steve Staunton was set to be named the new manager of his hometown club, Dundalk yesterday confirmed that former Ireland U19 manager Sean McCaffrey is taking over at Oriel Park on a one-year deal.