Saturday 23 September 2017

'Disappointed' Hand latest high-profile casualty of FAI cost-cutting

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

EOIN HAND has expressed his surprise and disappointment after being told that his contract with the FAI was not being renewed.

The former Ireland manager has become the latest high-profile casualty of the association's cost-cutting drive, following Packie Bonner and Wim Koevermans out the door at Abbotstown.

A highly respected figure in Irish football, Hand has been employed by the association since 1999, having previously served with distinction as international team manager.

The Dubliner, who won 20 international caps, began with FAI as a career-guidance officer with a mandate to help young players going to, or coming back from, clubs in England.

In 2004 his role expanded to the title of 'football support services manager', which included advising sides in Ireland who were negotiating with clubs from overseas looking to sign young Irish talent.

Hand, who had wanted to continue in his role, was informed in April that he was not being offered a contract extension. Instead, the job has been combined with two others -- those of compliance and children's welfare officer -- into just one post.

The new role will be filled by Vincent O'Flaherty, who previously held the compliance position. Former children's officer Michael Lynham has also been let go.

Speaking yesterday, Hand admitted that the decision not to keep him on had come as a surprise. "I am disappointed," he said. "But I am more disappointed for the clubs to whom I was giving service."

Hand believes that the FAI's decision to combine the three positions of compliance, children's officer and football services, will hit the clubs who most need help, as they lose out on the knowledge and experience he has built up over a long career in football.

"I had said I didn't want to do as much as I had been doing with regard to career guidance and things like that, but I certainly wanted to continue the compensations work that I had basically brought into the country in 2001.

"I have learned how to handle all of the problems that clubs encounter between here and England and I really did think they would have wanted me to continue -- but they thought differently."

The FAI have embarked on a series of cost-cutting measures in recent years as they look to service the debt incurred when rebuilding Lansdowne Road.

Staff numbers declined from 179 in 2010 to 173 in 2011, while grants to clubs were also cut and some staff took pay-cuts -- including chief executive John Delaney, whose salary was reduced from €431,687 to €400,000 in the same period.

Hand played 20 times for Ireland, before taking over as international manager in 1980 after guiding Limerick to the League of Ireland title.

The Dubliner managed Ireland for six years, narrowly missing out on qualification for the 1982 World Cup and finishing third in the 1984 European Championships campaign. He was replaced by Jack Charlton after a disappointing attempt at qualifying for the 1986 World Cup finals.

Hand has stayed in the game ever since, working as a pundit on RTE and using his contacts network in his role with the FAI to help clubs dealing with powerful English outfits. That expertise will now be lost to the clubs.

Network

"That would be my opinion, but it obviously isn't someone else's opinion," he said.

"I have got the network of dealing with all of the principals, I am on first-name terms and have been facilitating with the FA in London and FIFA in Zurich."

"I still get calls on a regular basis from clubs seeking assistance and I continue to give them assistance, even though I say to them that I am no longer being paid by the FAI to do this. I feel they need the help.

"I don't want to see clubs bullied or being forced to receive derisory offers from English clubs. Our country clubs in particular were very grateful in particular.

"I was a facilitator. I would get the (English) clubs to come to the area they were recruiting from and they would try the reverse which is the wrong way. You are immediately compromised.

"I would always get them to travel, get them to sit down and make it clear that there was no financial incentive for me to resolve this passage of a young lad's opportunity.

"When that is understood, you sit down and thrash it out. It has always worked, it is fair."

The FAI's AGM takes place this weekend in Donegal, where around 250 delegates representing every league and divisional association will be in attendance.

Irish Independent

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