Sunderland consider move for Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill

Barnsley boss Paul Heckingbottom. Picture by Frank Reid
Barnsley boss Paul Heckingbottom. Picture by Frank Reid

Michael O’Neill is under serious consideration as Sunderland continue their search for a new manager.

O’Neill is considering his future as Northern Ireland boss, having narrowly missed out on qualification to the World Cup.

Dwight Yorke battles it out with Sheffield Wednesday's Yoann Folly back in 2006, during his time as a Sunderland player

Dwight Yorke battles it out with Sheffield Wednesday's Yoann Folly back in 2006, during his time as a Sunderland player

His side drew 0-0 with Switzerland on Sunday night after a 1-0 defeat in Belfast days earlier.

Reports suggest that Northern Ireland hope to tie him down to a new contract, while he is also understood to be Scotland’s number one preference to succeed Gordon Strachan.

But the Black Cats are keen on the 48-year-old and their interest perhaps explains the protracted search for a new manager, now in its third week.

O’Neill’s outstanding achievements in recent years have caught Sunderland’s attention as they look to fight back from the bottom of the league.

Barnsley boss Paul Heckingbottom remains a leading contender, while Ally McCoist is also in the frame.

The Black Cats are thought to have whittled their shortlist down to four names, including Heckingbottom, former Rangers boss Ally McCoist and O’Neill.

Meetings have been held in Manchester and Leeds in recent days, with suggestions that Heckingbottom is a clear front-runner played down by club sources.

No official approach has been made for the Barnsley boss two weeks after the departure of former manager Simon Grayson.

Chief executive Bain is thought to still be in the process of meeting potential candidates and, while there remains some hope that an appointment can be sealed in time for the crunch home clash with Millwall on Saturday, Robbie Stockdale leading the team at the Stadium of Light remains a strong possibility.

Stockdale has been leading training this week after joint caretaker boss Billy McKinlay left to join David Moyes at West Ham United.

While Bain continues to weigh up his options, assisted by Academy chief Jimmy Sinclair, Heckingbottom is undoubtedly in the frame to succeed Grayson.

Heckingbottom is thought to be interested in the post, though he has spoken regularly of his happiness at his boyhood club.

Former Sunderland midfielder Dwight Yorke, meanwhile, told talkSport yesterday that he had hoped to hold discussions about the vacancy.

Yorke has spoken of his desire to manage the Black Cats in the past, having had three years on Wearside as a player and helping the club win promotion in 2007.

Ex-Manchester United and Aston Villa star Yorke (pictured, inset) said the club was in need of something ‘new and exciting’.

“I have tried to get hold of Martin Bain and left a message or two to see if there is any comeback,” Yorke said. “The place needs a lift, something new, something exciting. They have gone for experience in the past.

“They have tried that and it hasn’t quite worked out.

“Why not give it to someone new who is really eager to prove he can do the job?

“An interview would be nice. I will still continue to work at that and see where I get.”