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Thursday 29 September 2016

Daniel McDonnell: Fining managers will do nothing to solve League's problems

Published 04/04/2016 | 02:30

Waterford United manager Roddy Collins criticised the League of Ireland Photo: Sportsfile
Waterford United manager Roddy Collins criticised the League of Ireland Photo: Sportsfile

It's a strange state of affairs when Roddy Collins is a unifying force for football managers in Ireland. The FAI's disciplinary measures have somehow managed to make that possible.

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Collins has never been shy about criticising his peers through his media profile and that has made him a polarising figure, but even his oldest foes cannot get their head around the €1,500 fine and six-game ban the Waterford United manager has received for a newspaper column that was critical of the League of Ireland.

The Dubliner didn't pull any punches in a pre-season 'state of the nation'. By describing the League as "a shambles" and stating there would be "no League to launch" without dedicated supporters, volunteers, players and club officials - the administrators were the notable omission - he was always going to receive some form of sanction. He's been in the dock before.

But does the punishment really fit the crime? And what does it say to other managers who want to speak their mind on any topic?

Last year, Jose Mourinho was hit with a £50,000 fine and a one-game stadium ban for insinuating that referees were afraid of giving decisions in favour of Chelsea.

That was a heavy slap on the wrists by English standards, yet it still represented only a fifth of Mourinho's weekly wage. He was exceptionally well paid, but other high-profile Premier League culprits in recent years such as Neil Warnock (£9,000) and Sam Allardyce (£8,000) took punishment that was manageable when measured against their income and environment.

Waterford collected just €5,000 for finishing seventh in the second tier in 2015, so €1,500 goes a long way in their world.

The six-game element of Collins' punishment is also huge in an eight-team division that has shrunk over the past decade because of financial hardship.

There are just 28 league games in the regular season. Imagine the outcry if a manager across the water received an eight-match ban and a seven-figure fine for criticising the authorities - because that's an equivalent punishment.

The League of Ireland's punitive disciplinary system is a real bugbear among those that work in the game here, and the frustration is understandable. Clubs know there will be severe penalties if they step out of line; they signed into a Participation Agreement which covered public commentary.

Sponsorship obligations are another area where members know their responsibilities. Before the season the FAI sent out a draft fine schedule for 'Breaches of Commercial Rules and Strict Liability Offences'.

For example, the "absence of a Sports Drink Sponsor's logo from a water bottle, carrier and/or medical bag" could draw fines starting from €100 to €1,000 for live TV fixtures, and €50 to €750 for Premier Division fixtures, with repeat offenders risking the higher end.

Use of a football other than that of the 'Football Sponsor'? Minimum penalty €1,000. Failure to ensure staff are available for interviews? €500-€1,250. Absence of a secure area for those interviews? €500-€1,500. (A controversial interview in an insecure area could end a club).

Granted, clubs have little excuse for not complying with conditions laid out in advance, but the strict enforcement should extend to areas that really impact on the quality of the product.

Obstacle

In February, Keith Fahey raised a major flaw - the lack of consistency in working conditions for footballers. His frustration struck a chord with players and managers, yet they are reluctant to follow suit in case they talk themselves into hot water.

Licensing was supposed to apply standards but derogations have undermined that process. Drogheda United were allowed to play out of a sub-standard venue for several years on the basis there were plans to move to a new stadium, and Finn Harps have a pass this year for the same reason. Their pitch is already a huge talking point.

Picking out examples tends to lead to vexing games of whataboutery but they have to be consistently highlighted or else nothing will change. And it's not just the strugglers. Dundalk are setting standards with their football but Oriel Park is holding the whole operation back.

It's tough for club officials around the country who inherited problems but a hard line should be taken in this department - because anecdotal tales of teams changing in hotels belong in the distant past.

A league that is strong on branded footballs and sports drink logos yet weak on pitches and dressing rooms makes for a confusing mission statement. The rank and file should be free to raise valid points without fearing the consequences.

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