League facing triple blow as O’Neill, Fenlon and Cook eye up fresh job opportunities
FIRST the players and now the managers. Another League of Ireland winter is developing into a story of exodus.
Some outstanding talents have left these shores in recent years and all eyes are now trained on the managers, with the shape of the 2012 season set to be determined by events elsewhere.
Hibernian have indicated that they will delay the appointment of their new boss until after the weekend -- news that is relevant to Bohemians boss Pat Fenlon and Shamrock Rovers supremo Michael O'Neill.
O'Neill has also indicated his interest in the post of Northern Ireland manager while his contract issue in Tallaght rumbles on with no resolution.
The Hoops manager is a man in demand after leading his charges to back-to-back league titles and Rovers' achievement of qualifying for the Europa League group stages.
With two group games remaining -- a trip to Kazan followed by the visit of Spurs -- there is a danger that the Armagh man could be elsewhere when the adventure comes to an end.
The Hibernian post isn't the first Scottish vacancy to cause a stir here this month.
Sligo Rovers manager Paul Cook turned down the St Johnstone job, but the FAI Cup-winning manager could still be on the move and is understood to be on the radar of League Two side Northampton.
For Cook, an Englishman, the desire to move back to his native land would be understandable. Yet, there are League of Ireland followers who will question if Fenlon and, particularly, O'Neill, are making a career move upwards if they opt for Scotland.
Is it a question of money or ambition? It's a little from column A, and a little from column B.
Fenlon was denied a move to Dundee United in January 2010 due to Bohemians' compensation demands.
The situation has changed radically now. Cash-strapped Bohs face a battle to get through the winter and Fenlon is their biggest expense.
His six-figure salary has been gradually eroded by pay cuts at the club as their dire financial situation became apparent, yet he remains under contract and is due be paid throughout the winter. It would suit both parties if the Dubliner landed the Hibs post.
Fenlon is keen to remain in full-time football and the opportunities in Ireland are limited. Realistically, only the Shamrock Rovers job would be of much appeal to the ambitious 42-year-old.
However, the chance to work in an established full-time environment in Scotland would be a huge attraction, especially as it could lead to bigger and better things. The basic wage offered by Hibs would be an improvement on his current deal, but it wouldn't set the former Shelbourne boss up for life.
However, after 24 months of firefighting, Fenlon would have the opportunity to concentrate on football in a secure setting.
O'Neill's situation is more complex. He stated his intention to stay on with Shamrock Rovers in the celebrations that followed their league title success at Belfield, but negotiations over a new deal have stalled.
Neither party has indicated any dissatisfaction with the salary on offer, but there is believed to be some dispute over bonus payments.
Reports in Belfast have suggested that Northern Ireland are willing to pay £450,000-a-year to Nigel Worthington's successor. That would represent a four-fold increase on O'Neill's basic pay at Rovers.
The package at Hibernian would be worth substantially less. Indeed, O'Neill could possibly earn more on an incentivised contract at Rovers as they head in search of three-in-a-row and another European adventure.
But the platform in Scotland is bigger, regardless of some abysmal European performances in recent times. Relative to their resources, Irish clubs have acquitted themselves better and Shamrock Rovers would be right to fancy their chances against the likes of Hibs. If only it that was simple.
One of the League of Ireland's best players, Richie Ryan, is on the verge of signing for Dundee United. As a professional footballer, he had little option.
He could agree a 40-week deal with Sligo and sign on the dole over the winter, or else go to a league where long contracts can both be offered and honoured.
It's an uncomfortable reality that extends to the men in the dugout. Managers like Owen Coyle and Derek McInnes have gone straight from the SPL to the English Championship. Big English clubs regularly recruit from Scotland when they want to change their manager, but not from the League of Ireland.
A perception issue, perhaps, but it's a fact of life.