Roy Keane heading for major crossroads in his career
Ireland No 2 needs to decide if move to Villa worth it
There is a certain irony in the fact that the longer Ireland's winless streak continues, the more desirable Roy Keane becomes to prospective employers.
Then again, Keane's career has been full of paradoxes. So, after spending two and a half years out of work waiting for his phone to ring, all of a sudden it is hopping.
Two weeks ago, after Turkey defeated Ireland 2-1 at the Aviva Stadium, news of Celtic's interest in the Cork-man emerged. Yet while that courtship never got beyond a first date, Keane's flirtation with Aston Villa is gathering pace.
Already they have met to discuss the possibility of the Ireland assistant manager fulfilling a similar position under Paul Lambert. And while O'Neill is far from surprised by the prospect of his right-hand man leaving, you have to wonder which one of the three draws or three defeats from Ireland's last six games have convinced Celtic and Villa that he was worth a call.
But the bottom line is they have called. And as Keane contemplates whether to accept Lambert's offer, O'Neill is drawing up the boundaries for what is acceptable and what is not.
Double-jobbing is on the cards – providing Keane's work at Villa does not cut across what he is expected to do with Ireland. All O'Neill wants is for his No 2 to make his mind up by July 31.
"I have spoken with Roy really just to verify if conversations (with Villa) have taken place," said O'Neill yesterday. "Basically Roy has just been taking some time to consider things and Paul Lambert has been doing exactly the same. But nothing definitive has happened.
"Would I feel let down if Roy goes? Well I'm going to tell you this – no, I haven't been let down one bit by Roy.
"This is a part-time job he has got here with Ireland, but he treats his job in a full-time manner. When the Celtic affair did not materialise into anything, I was absolutely delighted. Delighted. Because he has been fantastic to work with and fantastic with the players.
"He goes to a lot of functions for the FAI and I have not and do not feel let down by him. The facts are that he is a man in demand and when I first discussed this job with him, I wasn't able to look into the future. I didn't know these things would crop up.
"And it may not be the last time they do crop up. There may be something else. He may be offered a job as a piano player in a pub or something (laughs). I don't know myself what will happen."
Nor, for now, does Keane. Having held talks with Lambert prior to Ireland's departure for America for their games against Costa Rica and Portugal, Keane has placed the matter on hold.
His next step is figuring out if he can combine the Villa job with the Irish one. And if so, then he has to convince both O'Neill and John Delaney – who previously ruled out the possibility of Keane double-jobbing – that the two roles are compatible.
"I will look at that detail," said O'Neill, "and see the sort of commitment required (at Villa) and make some sort of judgment on that. I will make the call. If the commitment is not full scale well that might become a different issue.
"I have complete trust in him going to games, but if he misses the odd midweek game here or there, well I can deal with that because I have Steve Guppy and Steve Walford who can do that job. Had the Celtic job come off, I don't think Roy could have done both jobs because being a manager is a full-time role.
"But there's a better chance of him doing two jobs if he was an assistant somewhere. I don't know the thoughts about how deep this (Aston Villa) role might be – whether it is a demanding or a less time-consuming position. I have lots to consider."
So, for that matter has Keane. Villa – since O'Neill left the club in 2010 – have been on a downward spiral and mid-table mediocrity is the best they can hope for. How a move there will benefit his career is anyone's guess.
In the meantime, O'Neill has issued some guidelines and deadlines. July 31 is the cut-off point. Making sure he is on call to carry out his Ireland duties is a must if he is to accept Villa's offer.
"For starters, John (Delaney) and I would need to sit down and discuss this. I don't know the terms of Roy's contract, because he went separately into this thing. I don't know what will happen, but I don't want it to be continued right through until August."
Yet it is unlikely he will have to wait that long for Keane's answer. Having already met Lambert "a few times" according to O'Neill, it is clear the process is well under way.
"I don't think they know each other fantastically well, so the conversations have not gone to any depth at this moment," said O'Neill. "If it is a full-blooded assistant manager's role, then there is something to consider. But I think the point you have to realise here is that he is actually part-time with us.
"I will trust his judgment. I think he might ask my advice and when I know the complete circumstances of it that is something I would gladly give him. At this stage, it hasn't gone as far as to the point where we are going to have an official conversation with John."
That point, though, is coming soon.