Shamrock Rovers duo O'Neill and Magilton among NI possibles

By John HaugheyBBC Sport NI
Michael O'Neill (left) and Jim Magilton
Michael O'Neill and Jim Magilton are currently working together at Dublin club Shamrock Rovers

Jim Magilton and Michael O'Neill appear to be the early favourites to succeed Nigel Worthington as Northern Ireland manager although a number of other names are certain to be linked with the job.

The currently out-of-work Martin O'Neill will be advanced by many as the answer to Northern Ireland's woes but it seems highly unlikely that the former Leicester, Celtic and Aston Villa boss could be coaxed to take over from Worthington.

Another former Northern Ireland captain Iain Dowie remains a popular figure with the fans although his most recent largely unsuccessful spells in charge of QPR and Hull may have diminished his managerial stock.

However, Dowie quickly made clear his interest in the job on Monday afternoon.

"The biggest highlight of my career was when I captained my country and I would be very keen to become international manager," said Dowie, who is currently working as a pundit with Sky Sports.

There will be inevitable speculation that Magilton and Michael O'Neill could form a managerial team to take charge of Northern Ireland as that is exactly what they are currently doing at Dublin club Shamrock Rovers.

O'Neill led Rovers to the League of Ireland title last year and appointed former Ipswich Town and QPR boss Magilton as his assistant in early July.

In August, the duo steered Rovers into the group stages of the Europa League which was the first time that a League of Ireland club had ever achieved such a feat in European competition.

O'Neill won 33 Northern Ireland caps between 1988 and 1996 with Magilton making 52 appearances in a 11-year international career which ended in 2002.

Both men have maintained a visible presence within Northern Ireland football through regular television pundit work with BBC Northern Ireland.

Magilton was still an Ipswich player when the East Anglia club appointed him as manager to succeed Joe Royle in June 2006.

The Tractor Boys narrowly missed out on the Championship play-offs in his second season in charge (2007/8) and he was dismissed from the Portman Road job a year later after failing to make the play-offs.

Within six weeks, Magilton had been appointed as QPR boss but he stayed in the job for only six months with a "difference of opinion" with Hungarian midfielder Akos Buzsaky reported to have hastened his exit.

However in Magilton's defence, he had been the seventh manager to work under then chairman Flavio Briatore in a period of little over three years.

That list of QPR managers also included Dowie.

After impressing in his initial managerial stint with Scottish League Division 2 club Brechin City, Michael O'Neill was appointed as Shamrock Rovers boss in December 2008.

O'Neill guided the Hoops to last year's League of Ireland title and his team's European exploits this season have highlighted his burgeoning managerial reputation.

Former boss Lawrie Sanchez actively articulated his desire to return to the Northern Ireland job in a controversial BBC Radio Ulster interview last month.

Sanchez, who had a highly successful three years in charge from 2004 to May 2007, said that the "writing was on the wall" for Worthington which many regarded as an unseemly intervention against a fellow manager.

Current Barnet boss Sanchez still has his supporters in Northern Ireland who recall the former Wimbledon player's achievement of guiding the team from 124th to an all-time high of 27th in the Fifa world rankings.

But others remember Sanchez quitting the job to take over at Fulham and his criticism of Worthington last month may prove seriously counterproductive to his chances of a Northern Ireland return.

Possible left-field candidates may include former Republic of Ireland manager and current Faroe Islands boss Brian Kerr.

Kerr has family connections in Belfast and would almost certainly relish the opportunity to show the Republic's soccer bosses that they made a mistake in not renewing his contract in October 2005.