'The game is not going to go ahead. I would love it to go ahead, but it will not go ahead'
JOHN DELANEY broke his silence on the FAI's decision to block Limerick FC's proposed friendly with Barcelona when appearing on the Marian Finucane show along with a panel which included Fine Gael's Limerick East TD, Kieran O'Donnell, and Dr Michael Somers, the ex-CEO of the National Treasury Management Agency. Here is an abridged version of the discussion.
Delaney: I couldn't deal with it on Friday because the solicitors' letters arrived in to us on Friday. I didn't see a copy of before I went into a press conference, so I couldn't deal with it. I'm happy to deal with it today. I think Limerick have acted naively in the whole situation. Noel Mooney spoke to the owner of Limerick on Thursday morning and explained that we couldn't grant the game, we're contractually bound to other people, whereby we're unable to grant the game. I would have loved the game to have been played in Limerick.
MF: Who is the arrangement with?
Delaney: One of our third parties who we work with in terms of arranging friendlies. We would have a relationship in terms of the organisation of friendlies coming into Ireland. There are certain games we can grant and certain games we cannot grant in terms of attendance figures. The owner of Limerick Football Club accepted that and said that would be the end of the matter. Unfortunately then they start issuing statements on Thursday night. They've tried to bring it into the public arena and put pressure on us.
We were as well negotiating with Barcelona to come to Dublin next year. Padraig Smith and Noel Mooney went out there to meet them three or four weeks ago. they looked for a proposal that was going to be sent to them in the autumn. We've also got correspondence from Barcelona last week saying they've not agreed to the game in Limerick yet because it's up to their manager and I know how that would work as when we were getting Manchester United to come, it always requires the manager to sign off. The commercial side will have one view on it, but the manager from a football perspective will determine it.
Kieran O'Donnell interjects to say he understands there is heads of agreement ready to be signed and Barca have agreed at management level, but need a final decision.
Delaney: The game is not going to go ahead. I would love it to go ahead, but it will not go ahead.
MF: Maybe if there was some clarity it would help.
Delaney: First of all, Marian, I don't believe they've done a deal. We got an email from Barcelona in the late end of this week saying they haven't agreed to it.
KOD: My understanding is they have.
Delaney: I can only operate in the facts that I have. The correspondence that was shown to me, I think it was on Thursday, that we got from Barcelona, (stated) that they had not agreed to it, that they had not signed off on it. That's the first thing.
MF: To get back to the point, why?
Delaney: We have signed up to an agreement with an agency that brings games into Ireland on our behalf and that restricts our ability to grant friendlies of a certain capacity.
Panel: But Limerick have gone to a lot of trouble.
Delaney: We can't let it happen. We run the League of Ireland, we put a lot of money into the running of League of Ireland. The league costs us €5m.
KOD: But what about Limerick FC?
Delaney: We put €5m into the running of the league, which Limerick FC benefit from.
KOD: Barca have the heads of agreement ready to roll, all they're waiting for is the nod.
Delaney: They're not the facts. I said to you on Thursday, there's an email sent. They have not. That statement is libellous.
Panel: It sounds like anti-competitive behaviour. If the club has the entrepreneurship to bring in Barcelona, then why not?
Delaney: We're legally restricted on it. They've got to ask for our permission. Every club understands that. We wrote to the clubs a year ago to say if you're bringing in games, ask us first. We've had difficulty in the past, with games coming in which have upset our own league calendar.
Another fear I'd have for this game, by the way, is to get Barcelona costs €1m. To host the game, including the security, rent to Thomond Park, flying the clubs in, could be €2m. So, for the club to make money on it, I can't see how it would work.
Panel: Why can't it be mediated?
Delaney: The way to mediate is to do it privately.
MF brings in Dr Michael Somers, who is baffled and equates it to trying to argue with a civil service department.
MF: Is it about money, John?
Delaney: It ultimately comes down to that Marian, but also, if you put a position and it's accepted by the club and they say, that's fine, and we'll see you on Wednesday and you behave in the manner they've done, bringing the game into disrepute a bit, the way they've behaved the last couple of days, around the time of the opening of the stadium, issuing legal letters on Friday. It was done in poor taste. Naive. I deal with clubs all the time, national associations and agents, I know the way it works. I think the guys in Limerick have been very naive in how they've dealt with this, and who they're dealing with and I can only deal with the that facts I have.
KOD: This is something the kids will dream of, the kids of Limerick, to see Messi.
JD: But we'll see Messi on the 11th of August (at the Aviva Stadium, where Ireland host Argentina).
Later on in the show, Finucane returns to the issue, stating that Limerick owner Pat O'Sullivan has called in to assert that they do have agreement with Barcelona, pending the all-clear from the FAI.
Delaney: I got a phone call on Friday from another sports agency telling me that they are in negotiations with Barcelona for the same date in a different country. I keep coming back to it; I know the way agents operate, I know the way clubs operate, I know the way managers operate. They keep all the balls up in the air and then they make the decision that suits them best.
I wish Pat (O'Sullivan) had stuck to his promise to Noel Mooney on Thursday and come up to the meeting this Wednesday. That was on the agenda along with other items for the development of Limerick Football Club. And bringing things into the public arena and issuing statements back and forth doesn't service Irish football or Irish sport.
Panel: But it might get them (Limerick FC) their gig in Limerick.
Delaney: Well, it won't. It goes against them and that's the problem.
Panel: Are you willing to sit down with Limerick?
Delaney: I'll sit down with anybody. My job is to develop Irish football and I'll sit down with anybody.
Panel: Will you sit down with Pat O'Sullivan and Limerick FC to discuss this issue?
Delaney: I can't when there is a legal letter in the air. If they withdraw that, then they have some chance. I will sit with anybody to develop Irish football -- that's my role.