Former Aston Villa and Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill could be approached over Republic of Ireland job in days

Northern Irishman thought to be top target

Martin O'Neill could be handed the opportunity to become the new Republic of Ireland manager within days.

It is understood the 61-year-old has been earmarked as the Football Association of Ireland's number one target and that a formal approach is imminent.

The news is hardly unexpected with sources close to the former Sunderland boss having indicated his willingness to talk to the FAI.

Indeed, bookmakers had installed O'Neill as an overwhelming favourite for the post even before Giovanni Trapattoni's exit on Wednesday.

FAI chief executive John Delaney warned the following day that favouritism would not necessarily represent a pointer to his board's decision.

However, O'Neill's name featured prominently in a list of potential candidates acknowledged by Delaney the previous day, and it appears that he could be ready to make his move in the hope of securing a deal as early as next week.

Whether or not the new man, whoever it may be, will take up his post in time for next month's penultimate World Cup qualifier in Germany remains to be seen.

Ireland travel to Cologne on October 11, a day short of a year since they were trounced 6-1 by the same opposition at the Aviva Stadium, a result - or more accurately, a performance - which proved to be the beginning of the end for Trapattoni.

They will bring down the curtain on a disappointing campaign at home to Kazakhstan four days later, and do not have another scheduled fixture until Serbia head for Dublin for a friendly in March next year.

Should O'Neill be offered and accept the job, the trip to Germany could prove a daunting baptism.

He has been out of football since losing his job at the Stadium of Light at the end of March with the club fighting for Barclays Premier League survival.

He had been drafted in by the Black Cats in December 2011 in a move craved for so long by many supporters, and his initial impact was little short of spectacular.

However, having dragged Sunderland clear of the basement battle in which they were engaged on his arrival, he struggled to take them to the next level despite being allowed to invest around £22million in Scotland striker Steven Fletcher and England winger Adam Johnson during his only summer transfer window.

By the time he was shown the door after a dour 1-1 home draw with 10-man Norwich, O'Neill's legendary enthusiasm appeared to have deserted him.

However, the Ulsterman is understood to be keen to return to the game, and the challenge of international football is one which appeals.

It was perhaps significant that he was unable, despite several attempts, to persuade long-time ally John Robertson to join him on Wearside, and it would be no surprise if he wanted to Scot to do just that in Ireland.

However, Robertson is currently recovering after suffering a suspected heat attack last month and that could preclude his involvement.

PA

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