MICK McCARTHY knows from bitter experience how the departure of a manager can destabilise a club and send it spiralling towards relegation.

After all, Millwall were ninth in the First Division when he left The New Den in February 1996; they finished 22nd and went down after winning just three of their of their final 17 matches.

So, McCarthy will be aiming to have the opposite impact on Sunderland when his seven-year break from club management comes to an end today.

The 44-year-old son of Barnsley was born just 15 miles from Wilkinson, who originates from Sheffield, but there is a large gulf between their footballing philosophies and personalities.

While Wilkinson can be seen as dour and aloof, McCarthy engenders an indefatigable spirit in his players.

The ability of his Republic of Ireland sides was always greater than the sum of their parts, even with Roy Keane in the team.

Of course, McCarthy will forever be associated with Keane after their remarkable pre-World Cup bust-up that signalled the beginning of the end of his reign as Ireland coach. It goes without saying that Bob Murray would not have sought a reference for his new manager from Keane - who described McCarthy as "a crap player and a crap manager" last May.

But there are plenty more big names in the game who would readily testify to McCarthy's managerial talents.

Niall Quinn, who could have formed a double act with McCarthy had his former national coach replaced Peter Reid in October, is fulsome in his praise for the ex-Manchester City defender, having played with and under him.

Quinn said last summer: "Mick is a very sincere, solid man.

"I've said to one or two of the guys that, if I needed to confide in someone, he would be the first I would pick out. He is very genuine.

"We used to think that he was too serious as a player. But you realise now he was cut out for management because of that.

"On the pitch, Mick was a huge influence. He organised things better than anyone I've played with, at least until Roy Keane came along.

"I've never played with anyone who was doing the stuff he did - barking orders out consistently, frightening the referee, the linesmen and the opposing players - while at the same time he had everybody doing their job.

"Off the pitch, the rest of us used to head out as soon as we had the chance, but Mick was discussing matches and coaching patterns.

"We used to think, 'Oh God, put the ball away!' But he has now chilled as a manager."

McCarthy factfile

1959: Born Barnsley, February 7.

1977: Made league debut for Barnsley.

1979: Helped Barnsley win promotion to old Division Three.

1983: Moved to Man City for £200,000 after 272 appearances for Barnsley.

1984: Made Ireland debut in goalless draw with Poland in May.

1987: McCarthy joined Celtic after 140 League appearances at Maine Road. Part of the Bhoys' double winning side.

1989: Picked up second successive Scottish Cup winners medal. In the summer he joined French club Lyon.

1990: Returns to England where he makes his debut for Millwall at Luton. Played in all of Ireland's matches as they made the quarter-finals of the World Cup.

1991: Succeeded Bruce Rioch as Millwall manager.

1992: Collected his final Irish cap, his 57th, against Portugal.

1996: Appointed Jack Charlton's successor as Ireland's manager.

1997: Guides Ireland to brink of World Cup but were beaten by Belgium in play-off. Given new three year deal.

2001: Ireland qualify for World Cup with Portugal, as both teams knock out the highly fancied Holland.

2002: May - Roy Keane is sent home from the World Cup after a blazing row with McCarthy. June - Despite the absence of Keane, Ireland still reached the quarter-finals with McCarthy at the helm. October - Linked with Sunderland job after Peter Reid is sacked. However, Howard Wilkinson and Steve Cotterill take over. November - Leaves post as Ireland boss.

March 2003: Installed as Sunderland's new manager after Wilkinson departs?

managerial record

Millwall (March 18, 1992 to February 4, 1996): P 203 W 74 D 70 L 59

Republic of Ireland (March 1, 1996 to November 5, 2002): P 47 W 22 D 14 L 11


March 15 v Bolton (h), March 22 v West Ham (a), April 5 v Chelsea (h), April 12 v Birmingham (a), April 19 v West Brom (h), April 21 v Man City (a), April 26 v Newcastle (h), May 3 v Aston Villa (a), May 11 v Arsenal (h)

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