Sixteen years and one month after he departed the role of Ireland manager, talking about the pride he had felt, the pleasure and privilege it had been, Mick McCarthy is back. First past the post in what never really ultimately amounted to more than a one-horse race, it seems.
Long before it had become completely clear that Martin O'Neill's time was up, the talk was that both John Delaney and McCarthy himself were both open to the prospect of a return. And in the 48 hours after the northerner had actually left by "mutual agreement", there was a growing sense of inevitably about all. When they eventually met on Friday it took little more than a couple of hours to knock out the basis for a deal that has been agreed and will be signed when the lawyers have done their work.
McCarthy takes the job on a contract that will initially cover the European Championships and there is an option to extend for the campaign beyond that. His salary will be more or less what O’Neill started in the job on, about €1.2 million per annum, with significant bonuses built in if he successfully gets the Irish team to the European Championship.
An unveiling is expected to be within the next 48 hours, most likely on Saturday, although the FAI has yet to confirm any actual detail.
The 59-year-old will bring with him Terry Connor, who has worked as his assistant at both Wolves and, more recently, Ipswich over a combined period of nine years. Robbie Keane is all but certain to have a coaching role in the new set-up.
McCarthy will take up the role immediately and will be at next weekend’s draw for the European Championship qualifying groups at the Convention Centre in Dublin.
Process and shortlist
As recently as Thursday there has been talk around the FAI of “a process”, and “a shortlist” but neither ever really existed in a meaningful sense – it appears that the former was effectively conducted before O’Neill’s departure and anyone else considered discarded back then.
Chris Hughton was perhaps the one genuinely attractive candidate to get to the stage of ruling himself out publicly but another potential target, Brendan Rodgers, was essentially also unavailable due to his contractual situation with the Celtic manager, like the Brighton one, tied into what might well be considered a better job until the summer of 2021.
Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny made it clear that for him no job could compare to the Ireland one and the 47-year-old said that he wanted to be considered and there was substantial public support expressed for him over the course of this week.
In the end, though, the Dubliner seems to have been spoken to, rather than with, about the job and not by Delaney himself, which scarcely suggests his candidacy was taken as seriously in Abbotstown as it was among much of the rest of the football community.
Continued success in Ireland, abroad or in another role with the FAI, may make the coming of his day inevitable but if the association genuinely saw him as the next under-21 manager and planned to sell him the role as potentially being a stepping stone then none of this will have done much to help.
In the end, though, there only ever had looked to be one likely winner. McCarthy enjoyed a good relationship with Delaney and felt he might get the job when it became available five years ago. Long before then, he felt he had some unfinished business with it.
The first time around, he had overseen three campaigns and, relatively new to management, learned as he went. A first campaign that included some tactical uncertainty, a couple of disappointing home draws and one infamous away defeat was improved upon.
The high point of the six-year stint came on a Saturday afternoon in Lansdowne Road where Jason McAteer scored the goal that secured an unlikely victory over the Netherlands. After two playoff defeats, Ireland beat Iran to qualify for the 2002 World Cup finals in advance of which, of course, things did go entirely well.
Roy Keane went home but Ireland got to the second round before losing on penalties to Spain. McCarthy stuck around for the first couple of qualifying games in the next campaign when he might have been better to allow a new man take over. Both were lost, in any case, and he did depart.
There will be many now who are happy to see him return but even after all this time, his role in Saipan will ensure that the appointment divides opinion. There will be some too who will simply feel that the FAI should have been braver and more imaginative as it sought to shape a brighter future.
The word was, though, that they wanted a safe pair of hands and McCarthy looks to fit that bill. He has a track record of doing well with limited resources at Championship clubs, for the most part thanks to good organisation, a strong tactical sense and a way with players.
He’ll need all of those attributes over the course of the campaign to come.
Whether he can significantly improve Ireland’s style of play is another thing. He is something of a pragmatist and while his earlier Irish teams played some bright football at times, the current squad is not the match of that one. His immediate task is to make it a better one that it has looked over the past 12 months. That surely must be achievable but qualification for Euro 2020 will be rather more of a challenge, the full extent of which we will not know until next Sunday.