THE END OF THE McCARTHY ERA: 5 MONTHS OF HELL; Now Keane Is Set to Return as Mick Finally Gives Up on Ireland the Perception Will Be Roy Has Won -FORMER IRELAND MANAGER JACK CHARLTON

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MICK McCarthy suffered five months of hell before deciding to end his rocky six-year reign as Ireland manager, friends said last night.

Massive criticism since his bitter clash with Roy Keane and Ireland's disastrous start to the European 2004 qualifiers finally pushed him over the edge.

A source said yesterday: "Mick McCarthy's had five months of hell. He felt now was the time to go."

Favourite John Aldridge as well as John Toshack and Joe Kinnear are now being touted as the names up for the top job.

And McCarthy's resignation may pave the way for outcast Roy Keane's dramatic return to the fold.

The source said: "Pro-Keane fans will be delighted but those who supported Mick McCarthy are incensed at the way he has been treated.

"Whatever side you're on, in the public mind it now looks like Keane has won and McCarthy has caved in to the pressure.

"The simple fact was Mick couldn't continue taking the abuse that was being thrown at him. He is also quite sensitive to criticism, which didn't help the situation."

Jack Charlton declared last night that Keane has won his bitter battle with McCarthy - forcing the Ireland boss to pay the ultimate price.

He said: "I think that will be everyone's perception, that Roy Keane has won it.

"Mick's done a magnificent job and he's being put under pressure because of a couple of results. But he has brought young players through and has made them into international players."

McCarthy's departure will finally bring an end to the vitriolic row which has haunted him - and split Ireland - since May.

The former Celtic player's @75,000 deal was hammered out at a crunch meeting with FAI chiefs. In a tense day of drama, McCarthy flew into Dublin at lunchtime.

But it's believed the terms of his resignation had been already sealed, leaving both sides only to discuss the technicalities.

Former international soccer legend Paul McGrath said while McCarthy, 43, had built a successful team, sending Keane home from the World Cup and Ireland's start to the European qualifying campaign had swayed his decision to walk.

He added: "Anyone who knows Mick knows he is a very strong character and a very good manager and anyone who knows Roy Keane knows he is exactly the same. If I was going into a World Cup and my best player had issues I'd rather get round a table with him and thrash them out and my best player playing.

"After doing so well in the World Cup we just haven't played as well as we can and I don't believe we're actually capable of getting some good results in this competition. It's going to be very difficult."

McCarthy's assistant Ian Evans is in line for an estimated EUR25,000 pay-off, while the manager's deal is being regarded as a satisfactory agreement on both sides - even though McCarthy was on @500,000 a year.

If he had decided to stay in the job and was later sacked, the FAI would have had to pay McCarthy EUR750,000 to buy out the remainder of his contract.

The FAI has also waived a compensation clause which a Premiership club would have to pay if it contracted McCarthy. …