Tuesday 23 April 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'Beautiful game in this country could do without ugly antics of those in charge'

'Things can never be quite the same again for the inner sanctum overseeing the most widely played sport in Ireland.' Stock photo: Sportsfile
'Things can never be quite the same again for the inner sanctum overseeing the most widely played sport in Ireland.' Stock photo: Sportsfile

Gerard O'Regan

'There was no sex in Ireland before television.'' Such was the famous proclamation from the late Dáil deputy Oliver J Flanagan when he warned that the evils portrayed on the small screen could plunge the country into a moral cesspit.

That was, of course, all way back when Gay Byrne was hosting discussions on the newly launched Teilifís Éireann, where previously unmentionable taboos got an airing. But around the time Oliver J suggested we could be on a cliff edge of debauchery, other changes were afoot, of a more mundane kind.

In the wild lands of Co Kerry, the game of soccer had never really taken root. There were many reasons for this. The most obvious was a love affair with Gaelic football already almost a century old. That was the field game which captured the imagination of the locals. But in 1961 - the year our television service got up and going - soccer finally crossed the frontier into the Kingdom.

Tralee Dynamos were formed, sharing a name with the world famous club which has represented Moscow over the decades. It was a tentative, and belated beginning, for official organisation of 'association football' in the south-west.

In the early years, given there were no other clubs within the county, Dynamos had to play in the Limerick District League. Teams from exotic locations, such as Rathkeale and Newcastlewest, were soon visiting the club's spartan pitch on the edge of Tralee, aptly called 'The Low Field'.

Things have changed dramatically since those far-off days, and now there is a thriving soccer scene in Kerry, with assorted leagues catering for all age groups.

But this week it was ironic that embattled FAI supremo John Delaney's most passionate supporters were from a county so closely identified with the GAA.

A period spent working in Tralee cemented some personal friendships, which he was able to call on in his hour of need. John O'Regan, honorary secretary of the Kerry District League, told Ivan Yates and Matt Cooper's TV programme: "He is my mate. I am delighted to say he is my mate." He then went on to stoutly defend his sporting guru.

Also on the programme, Michael Healy-Rae - with an eye as ever on his local support base - continued rumbustious eulogising of the embattled FAI chief. His stance would suggest money from the association's coffers has made its way to sundry local clubs, by way of grants and other supports, over the years. The Healy-Rae outbursts, outrageous as they may be from a national standpoint, will do him no harm at all in Castleisland and points south.

But all such soundings of support may be to no avail. Things can never be quite the same again for the inner sanctum overseeing the most widely played sport in Ireland. There are simply too many unanswered questions hanging in the air. The decision by the FAI collective at the Dáil Committee to hide behind legalisms, reports, and an all-round deliberate vagueness, was in sporting parlance, a classic own goal. The full details of the €100,000 loan - an action which taken in isolation is increasingly bizarre - must be fully explained before any further State money can be given to the association.

A range of other perplexing issues emerged as part of the obfuscation at the Dáil committee hearing. Sport Ireland and Sports Minister Shane Ross must insist on straight answers to some straight questions. Outpourings of personal loyalty from some in the Kerry League, not to mention Healy-Rae's folksy self-interest, are neither here nor there. The old adage - who knew what, where and when - remains at the core of the debacle.

All the while there are major challenges confronting the future of soccer in this country. At one level, our international team toddles along in a state of constrained mediocrity. We seem incapable of producing a coterie of technically talented players not over reliant on the old 'hoof it up the middle' tactic. And despite romantic indulgence from those of us who should know better, the domestic league is still blighted by minuscule attendances at its games.

The actions and antics of those steering the fortunes of the beautiful game in Ireland have brought matters to a head. John Delaney and his team put in place a game plan that has already come unstuck.

Irish Independent

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