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Best on the up as striker signs for Newcastle

WHILE the late Robbie Keane drama grabbed the headlines, it was arguably an even more significant day for another Irish striker, with Leon Best clinching a permanent move from Coventry City to promotion-chasing Newcastle.

However, there was no joy for Stephen Hunt, with cash-strapped Hull City rebuffing a £5m bid from relegation rivals Wolves in the hope that the Waterford native can help the struggling Tigers beat the drop -- although they will be forced to sell the left-winger in the summer.

Best could have left Coventry for nothing at the end of the season and when he made it clear that he wouldn't be signing a fresh agreement, the Midlands club were keen to cash in during the January window.

Middlesbrough and his hometown club Nottingham Forest had been leading the chase, but it was Newcastle who followed through on their interest and the 23-year-old, who lived in Dublin for a period in his youth, arrived at the Geordies' training ground yesterday morning to undergo a medical.

Shortly afterwards, it was confirmed that the imposing front man had signed a three-and-a-half-year contract for an undisclosed fee. Chris Hughton's Newcastle side are currently four points clear at the top of the Championship, with a game in hand on second-placed Forest.

Best is therefore likely to sample Premier League football next season and, whatever happens with Hull, Hunt should be in the top flight as well. A reunion with Kevin Doyle at Wolves would have appealed to the midfielder, but Phil Brown did not wish to hand over a key player to another struggling side. The Tigers are confident they will be able to sell Hunt at a similar price in the summer if they fall through the trap door.

"We have offered to pay over the odds for three or four players," said Wolves boss Mick McCarthy, without specifically referring to Hunt. "But it's just not going to happen. We've been prepared to do it, to bid more than other clubs but the players don't want to come or the clubs don't want to sell."

One Irish left-winger who did change hands was Keith Treacy, with Preston completing a swoop for the Dubliner who was out of contract at Blackburn in the summer. Darren Ferguson has offered Treacy a two-and-a-half-year deal, with the transfer fee remaining undisclosed.

Roy Keane's protracted pursuit of Sunderland's Daryl Murphy eventually resulted in success, with the 26-year-old relocating to Ipswich on loan until the end of the season. Alex Bruce has left Ipswich to link up with Leicester, while Bristol City's Irish 'keeper Stephen Henderson will finish this campaign with Aldershot.

Ex-Shamrock Rovers man Richie Byrne has joined the expanding Irish community under Steve Staunton at Darlington while Celtic's Graham Carey -- who was a big hit on a temporary stint with Bohemians 12 months ago and broke into the first-team picture at Parkhead subsequently -- has been borrowed by St Mirren until the summer.

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