With some within the FAI reportedly resigned to losing Martin O'Neill to Stoke City yesterday afternoon, last night the mood changed: O'Neill is quite clearly the Potters' second-choice and he may end up staying with Ireland after all.
After Gary Rowett ruled himself out by committing to Derby County, Stoke's pick is Quique Sanchez-Flores, the erstwhile Watford manager who is currently in charge of Espanyol in Spain. Flores, who coached Watford to 13th and an FA Cup semi-final in his only season in charge, joined Espanyol in the summer of 2016.
Speaking after last night's victory in the Copa Del Rey, however, Flores was extremely coy on the rumours, stopping well short of rejecting them. And in a news feed as hungry as football's, anything short of a firm and outright rejection is enough to be taken as a declaration of interest.
When asked by the press whether he was committing to Espanyol, Flores had this to say:
The commitment to my profession is very clear to me, for more than 30 years when I started playing, that is unavoidable.
I am very grateful to Espanyol. At some point I felt that we did not advance at the promised speed, but that is not because Espanyol have not wanted to, but because they have not been able to. They have given me the tools they have been able to, we are in happy times, to enjoy, to laugh in the dressing room – I think we are in the right dynamic.
In the last few minutes, well-connected Spanish football journalist Guillem Balague tweeted his conviction that Flores will today tell Espanyol that he wants to leave Spain for Stoke, in perhaps the first known example of those words ever being uttered.
Today Quique Sánchez Flores will communicate his decision to the Espanyol board. Espanyol have contacted few coaches, including Javi Gracia who has other offers too #StokeCity pic.twitter.com/WIK5sUNnCN
— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) January 12, 2018
As for O'Neill, it increasingly looks like he has been a pawn in a game played by Stoke. And whatever about O'Neill's feelings, goodness knows those of the FAI and the Irish players.