MICK OUT, ROY'S IN; McCarthy Will LEAVE after Swiss Euro Match Bad Boy Keane to RETURN as Skipper

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MICK McCarthy is on the verge of quitting as Ireland manager, it emerged yesterday.

Premiership strugglers Sunderland spoke to the FAI yesterday after naming him their No1 choice to succeed sacked Peter Reid.

And the move could pave the way for Roy Keane's return to the Ireland squad.

Sunderland sources told the Irish Mirror yesterday: "An approach has already been made to sound out Mick's availability."

And an Irish team source said: "It looks like a done deal at this stage, but Mick doesn't want to leave Ireland in the lurch either.

"It's an emotional time for him, but he has to think of his own future. He has always wanted a Premiership club."

It's understood no announcement will be made until after next Wednesday's crucial Euro 2004 qualifier against Switzerland.

Bookies have installed McCarthy, 43, as hot favourite ahead of his former Ireland team-mate David O'Leary - even though his FAI contract isn't up until 2004.

Early contenders John Gregory and George Graham have already been ruled out.

It's believed McCarthy is upset by criticism over his handling of the World Cup bust-up with Keane and may influence his decision. He admits the row that resulted in Keane being sent home from Japan will "haunt me to my grave".

Keane vowed he would never play for Ireland - if McCarthy was manager - and fans of the bad boy Manchester United ace are delighted at the thought he may lead his country once more.

But Cathal Dervan, ghost writer McCarthy's autobiography, yesterday said Ireland will only appreciate him when he has gone.

He added: "At this moment, Mick's dream is that the nation gets behind the team. But the reality is Sunderland may come knocking on his door and it may be a knock he can't turn down.

"My information is that if he's offered it, he'll take it. He's always made clear that he will go back into club management one day.

"He calls it the asylum, a helter-skelter world, but he misses the day-to-day involvement. Perhaps this is the right time for him to consider his options.

"He's been very stung by the criticism following the World Cup and now the people that wanted him out may get their way. He's unhappy with the personal criticism that continues week in, week out, mostly on Sundays."

Mr Dervan said respect for McCarthy's skills is now higher in Britain than in Ireland - even though he dragged us from 54th place to 13th place in the world soccer rankings.

He added: "I don't think Ireland appreciates him enough and anyone that comes in after Mick will find it a very different animal and we'll realise what we've lost. …