Vinny Perth's seven-and-a-half-year association with Dundalk ended on Thursday night when the Dubliner was sacked, 24 hours after watching his team slump to a 3-0 defeat against Slovenia's NK Celje.

Perth was Stephen Kenny's right-hand man throughout the club's rise and rise from 2013 onwards, playing a key role in their domestic excellence and memorable odyssey into Europe.

When Perth took the reins from Kenny in 2019, after the boss headed for the Republic of Ireland senior job via the Under-21s, the silverware kept on coming.

LOI preview: Sligo look to deepen Lilywhites' woes

Another league title followed, as did the EA Sports Cup. In fact the Lilywhites were a kick away from a domestic treble, coming out the wrong side of an FAI Cup final penalty shootout against Shamrock Rovers.

However, Kenny's golden run through the Champions League qualifiers and subsequently the Europa League group stages has raised the bar at Oriel Park.

Europe is now a crucial barometer for the club. The ultimate ambition is to break into the Champions League group stages but they've drifted away from that since giving Legia Warsaw a real scare in the 2016 play-off round. 

Last year Qarabag sent them packing in the second round of Champions League qualifying before Slovan Bratislava compounded that with a 4-1 aggregate victory in the Europa League qualifiers.

The loss to Celje in Hungary was another highly disappointing result, albeit Perth was right to point out that had Pat Hoban's late header gone in rather than cannon off the post to level it, the game could have swung the other way. Such are the fine margins in football.

Perth spoke quite candidly about how things ended when he appeared as an analyst for RTÉ's coverage of Friday night's stalemate between Shamrock Rovers and Shelbourne.  

"It's certainly not a surprise to me that the decision was made," he told Peter Collins. "It was inevitable. It wasn't a real shock.

"There have been things in the background that haven’t been good enough. Ultimately, we haven’t been good enough on the pitch."

Now, his time is done - and by the sounds of it, not everything is in perfect harmony behind the scenes right now.

Perth's exit cuts another connection to the golden Kenny era.

Ruaidhri Higgins has joined the Republic of Ireland backroom set-up and Stephen O'Donnell left his position as senior opposition analyst to take on the St Pat's job.

The sad passing of Harry Taaffe - groundsman, videographer, and much-loved presence in the dressing-room - was in itself the end of an era.

Dundalk are eight points off leaders Shamrock Rovers with 10 games to go but they are still in the Europa League and the FAI Cup, with plenty to play for.

Still, it really feels like they're at a crossroads. So where do turn to now? We take a look at some of the candidates who could fill the hot seat.  

Alan Reynolds

A man already in the camp, Reynolds and John Gill will take charge of the team for this evening's trip to Sligo Rovers.

He did a fine job with Waterford after taking over in 2017, leading them to promotion and a fourth-placed finish in their first season back in the top flight. A technicality meant they were unable to compete in Europe: a club must be three years old to compete in European competition; Waterford's management company was formed in 2016.

Reynolds is highly respected and familiar to the players, though he does also have a commitment ot the Republic of Ireland Under-21s, where he serves as assistant to Jim Crawford.

Collie O'Neill

Stylistically O'Neill would fit in well at Oriel, where the fans have become accustomed to an attractive brand of possession football over the recent years.

He was appointed UCD manager in 2015 and steered them to the First Division title three years later. Despite facing the constant challenge of having his best players cherry-picked by bigger clubs, O'Neill consistently made the Students competitive and easy on the eye.

He left in August 2019, later telling the LOI Weekly podcast that he was sacked after a dispute with a board member because he did not want to select a particular player. The Drogheda man has not returned to the game since.

Keith Long

The darling of Dalymount Park has done a brilliant job with Bohs over the last six years.

Long has exhibited a remarkable ability to keep the Gypsies on a steady upward curve despite often having to adapt his squad to a heavy player turnover.

He's a sharp, clever tactician with a brilliant track record of nurturing young talent.     

Stephen O'Donnell

It's unlikely O'Donnell would return to the club so soon after heading for Inchicore where he's cutting his teeth in management despite the strong emotional connection. O'Donnell, still only 34, won four league crowns and two FAI Cups at Dundalk before taking up a back-room role.

He may be best served continuing to learn his trade at St Pat's, with Shels' 33-year-old boss Ian Morris perhaps in a similar bracket. 

Robbie Keane

It'd the be the blockbuster twist that'd get tongues wagging in Ireland and beyond. Keane is currently at a loose end having departed his assistant manager's position at Middlesbrough in June.

When Kenny took over from Mick McCarthy in April he made it clear very quickly he'd be bringing in his own support team which has left Keane's future with Ireland unclear. He is still under contract with the FAI.

He was linked with a first-team coaching role at Spurs before Ledley King got the nod so Ireland's record goalscorer remains available. Keane's only previous experience of management came during the spring of 2018 in the Indian Super League where he was player-manager for Atletico de Kolkata.