It has been suggested to the Irish Examiner that the Derryman could target as many as a dozen players under the so-called ‘granny rule’.
The former Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland manager is believed to have identified several Premier League and Championship footballers who either refused to declare for Ireland under Giovanni Trapattoni or haven’t yet been approached. Sources close to O’Neill say he is confident he would be able to convince more players to come on board with him.
Blackburn-born Anthony Pilkington, whose grandmother was born in Dublin, this month became the latest player to be capped for the country under the parentage rule.
With the FAI board understood to be unanimous in their desire to bring in O’Neill, the ball is now firmly in the former Northern Ireland international’s court but, amid some suggestion he might be wavering as he still considers a return to club management, his appointment is not yet a done deal.
Interest in the vacant position broadened over the weekend, with former Valencia and Inter Milan coach Hector Cuper throwing his hat in the ring. The Argentine’s English agent Stephen Morris confirmed: “Hector is extremely interested in the job. If he was appointed he would move to Liverpool where our agency is based and he would attend matches from there.”
John O’Shea believes the FAI should avail of the knowledge and expertise of well-known figures in Irish football as they plot a course for the future of the game.
“We need everyone pulling in the right direction,” said the Sunderland man. “I have known Brian Kerr for a long time. He has so much too offer. Niall Quinn, Kevin Kilbane, Roy Keane, these lads have been fantastic. These are the type of men we could do with in the set-up. They have so much to offer.”
And apparently confirming that, if he was interested, Keane would not be out of the picture, FAI chief executive John Delaney said: “We’re not ruling anyone out. The past is the past. We move on.”
As the post-mortem into the Trapattoni era continues, Richard Dunne — who along with O’Shea is suspended for next month’s World Cup qualifier against Germany in Cologne — believes Irish football might have to sacrifice qualification for big tournaments in the short-term to allow for the fundamental change in style which could pay longer-term dividends.
“It’s not Trapattoni’s fault or anything like that,” he said. “It is Irish football, 100% in every game. Until everyone is willing for us to get the ball down and knock it and make mistakes and not qualify for tournaments for a while, then somebody brave enough has to come in and take that job on.”
Meanwhile, Irish exile Stephen Ireland has said that, with a new era beckoning for Irish football, he would be open to returning to play for his country for the first time since he featured against Slovakia in 2007.
That game in Bratislava, under the management of Steve Staunton, was followed by the infamous ‘Grannygate’ episode and, despite unsuccessful attempts to lure him back by Trapattoni, the 27-year-old from Cobh has not been part of the international set-up for six years.
But now the Italian has moved on, Ireland — who made his first appearance off the bench for Stoke City against Manchester City on Saturday — says he would be open to establishing contact with Trapattoni’s successor.
“I think I would like to get together, try to put everything on the table, put across ideas and just have a good general chat,” he said.
“If nothing comes out of it, nothing comes out of it, but I think it would be nice just to have a chat.
“First and foremost it is just Stoke City on my mind. I need to get 10, 15 or 20 games under my belt first and see how I go with that.
“Then maybe I might get in a position where Ireland want me to play and we could have a further conversation. Right now, all that is on my mind is Stoke, getting fit and getting 90 minutes under my belt and getting as many games as possible.”
On the issue of whether he could put his troubled past with the national team behind him, Ireland said: “I would like to think so. It was my decision to leave and it’s probably going to be my decision to go back if the manager asks, whoever they appoint.
“But first and foremost it’s about my club and we’ll have a conversation down the line if they ever want me to go back. It all depends who the new manager is. It’s a long time away yet, I think.”