Sunday 25 September 2016

Profile: Bernard O'Byrne - How former FAI chief championed ill-fated Eircom Park project

Published 08/09/2016 | 02:30

Former FAI chief executive Bernard O’Byrne at the announcement in the Burlington Hotel of the ‘Arena’ – later to be named Eircom Park – in 1999. Photo: David Maher
Former FAI chief executive Bernard O’Byrne at the announcement in the Burlington Hotel of the ‘Arena’ – later to be named Eircom Park – in 1999. Photo: David Maher

Bernard O'Byrne is no stranger to controversy in Irish sport's corridors of power.

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In his former life as the chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), Mr O'Byrne was a central figure in a tumultuous period which brought him into conflict with the current CEO John Delaney, who is also part of the OCI executive committee.

Mr O'Byrne was appointed as CEO of the FAI in 1996 and his stewardship is remembered for his championing of the ill-fated Eircom Park project that was eventually brought down by opposition within the association. He wanted to construct a purpose-built stadium in Saggart that would have functioned as a new home for Irish football.

Then FAI treasurer Brendan Menton and the increasingly influential Mr Delaney were part of a rival group to Mr O'Byrne who queried the costs of that venture and favoured rowing in with the government's proposed national stadium in Abbotstown, a project that was christened 'The Bertie Bowl' due to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's involvement.

They raised questions about the validity of the Eircom Park plan and relations soured as Mr O'Byrne was forced to leave his role amid allegations that he had misused his FAI credit card. Mr O'Byrne admitted to clerical errors while denying impropriety, but he eventually ended up leaving the post.

The Eircom Park plan never got off the ground.

In a statement where he defended his position, Mr O'Byrne said he was victim of a campaign against him, which he described as: "Throw as much muck as you can and hope that some of it sticks. This campaign, orchestrated by some members of the FAI, and helped by people at other levels, is aimed at collapsing the Eircom project at any cost."

With a background in the Athletic Union League (AUL), Mr O'Byrne rose through the ranks of the Leinster FA to the FAI Junior Council. He was then appointed as head of security and was in that position on the night that rioting England fans caused the abandonment of a friendly at Lansdowne Road in 1995.

He moved up the pecking order a year later in the aftermath of the 'Merriongate' scandal where it emerged that the FAI's honorary treasurer Joe Delaney - father of John - had engaged in deals with a ticket tout nicknamed 'George the Greek' without the knowledge of the FAI executive.

Mr O'Byrne replaced Mr Delaney in the Treasurer role before getting promoted to CEO where his tenure lasted five years. Mr O'Byrne held positions with Coca-Cola, Nestle and Cement Roadstone Holdings in his early working life and, after he left the FAI, he formed his own business consultancy and served as chief executive of the Citywest Hotel & Leisure Group.

He retained his sporting interest and had a brief spell with League of Ireland side St Patrick's Athletic between April 2005 and February 2006. In 2011, Basketball Ireland hired Mr O'Byrne for its top job.

Irish Independent

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