Knives are sharpened as Kerr awaits fate

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The Independent Football

A statement from the Football Association of Ireland, issued hours after the dispiriting, shapeless and goalless draw with Switzerland, did not confirm that Kerr's €450,000-a-year contract would not be renewed, but it all but brought the curtain down after 33 months and 33 matches in charge.

The statement - the first issued by the 10-strong board despite a growing clamour to clarify Kerr's future - said simply that "the implications of non-qualification" will be considered. The board will "assess all the issues in respect of the international team" and qualifying for future tournaments.

The front-runners are clear even if the FAI will almost certainly fail to coax Roy Keane into the job. The Manchester United midfielder may, nevertheless, follow Kenny Cunningham in announcing his retirement from international football. The Irish would be delighted if they could secure Martin O'Neill - but that is highly unlikely - while a more feasible candidate is David O'Leary.

However at a fans' forum in Dublin, the Aston Villa manager, who was at Wednesday's match, said he had no intention of taking the job. "I believe I have plenty of club football left in me now," he said, "but if I was asked at some stage in the future and got the opportunity, sure I would love to do it."

An intriguing prospect is Sir Bobby Robson - to work in tandem with a younger coach, again raising the name of Keane - while the FAI chief executive, John Delaney, remains a firm fan of Bryan Robson, now at West Bromwich Albion. Delaney is enthusiastic about recruiting a higher-profile coach or former player. Liam Brady, who has been a savage critic of Kerr, should not be discounted.

A significant problem is money. Failure to reach another major championships leaves the FAI financially stretched and there isn't the budget to pay the wages a big name would demand without diverting funds from grassroots football. But Ireland are in a cleft stick. Their seeding is plummeting and they will fall into the fourth seeds for Euro 2008.

Nevertheless, Cunningham, who steps down after 72 distinguished caps, urged caution over Kerr. "I hope he gets a chance to carry on," the 34-year-old said. "Sometimes a change can freshen things up, but sometimes continuity is a good thing as well. Is there a better man out there to do the job? I think there might not be too many." It's certainly a debate the FAI, who may advertise the post, are having and there were some words of comfort from Delaney when he praised the "tremendous effort in terms of commitment and dedication to the task" of trying to qualify.

On Wednesday there was none of the booing which ended Mick McCarthy's six-year tenure, but the post-match analysis was more damning than anything Kerr's predecessor faced. McCarthy was a surprise supporter yesterday of a man who has not been particularly complimentary to him in turn.

"Three years on and they're still attacking the manager - it seems like they're trying to get another one out, which is a bit of a shame," McCarthy, now in charge of Sunderland, said. "It seems to be the driving force at the end of a World Cup campaign. They all worked hard to try and qualify. But this is a big blow for the Football Association financially and they've lost kudos and stature." As, indeed, has Kerr.

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