Vincent Hogan: 'John Delaney weathers the storm with not a hair out of place'
It was closing on 5pm in the photographers' room when John Delaney settled for the interrogation he always knew was coming, his back to the lockers, a black leather stool pushed tight towards his knees.
The stool was crowded with reporters' tape-recorders. Weapons. Nearly two hours into a process that had, largely, been frosting on a cake, politesse and protocol were about to go down the drain. The media officer helpfully brought a supplementary chair, Delaney smiling at its arrival like someone already shadow-boxing.
We were entering the second of two parallel worlds in the big, silver bowl on Lansdowne Road.
The first, like any civilised welcome, had been broadly good-humoured and mellow. Mick McCarthy bore that familiar owlish grin, the confident air of a man taking everybody into his confidence when, in fact, taking nobody. It's what good communicators do. If McCarthy's second coming as Irish manager guarantees anything, it is that the quotes will be rich in Yorkshire colour.
For all that, he's palpably mellowed too.
Nearly 22 years ago, when last paraded to media as Ireland's new manager, he responded to an enquiry about the style of football he might favour, by wondering aloud about the qualifications of anyone in the room to ask that question. By his own admission, Mick's a more diplomatic sort now.
Back then, the FAI had former government press secretary PJ Mara working for them as a PR consultant. A day before McCarthy's 37th birthday, they were determined to take no chances.
Mara would have relished yesterday's other parallel world, the one in which, all the klieg lights off, Delaney finally stepped from the gentle, wind squalls of formal questioning to the whipping storm of daily newspaper correspondents with whom he has a palpably glacial relationship.
The succession aspect to McCarthy's return had broken in curious increments.
Stephen Kenny's guarantee of the senior job in 2020 now made Mick the interim manager essentially, a curious designation for someone with his miles travelled in the game.
Better still, it was being rumoured yesterday morning that he would then be compensated to a seven-digit tune for being invited to step away in two years time.
Now this would either have made McCarthy the shrewdest negotiator since Henry Kissinger or the Association some kind of Pythonesque, idealogical wasteland in which contracts were riddles of convenience and money retained an oddly abstract quality.
A lot of business had been packed into the previous six days and the haste with which McCarthy was appointed hinted at an Association looking to clamp a lid on any invective coming their way.
Yet Delaney was unequivocal in his response now to any idea of McCarthy having an "option" to continue beyond 2020. "No," he said emphatically. "I'm not going to get into the detail of a contract, but the manager up to 2020 is Mick McCarthy. And the manager after that will be Stephen Kenny."
Do you have an option on Mick for another two years?
No option of any kind?
None was ever discussed?
"No. Mick McCarthy will manage the Irish team until 2020. That's it. Stephen Kenny will manage the senior team after that."
So no option of a further two years was discussed with Mick or his representatives at any point?
That was the tenor of it. The tone. The FAI chief executive facing a semi-circle of men (yes, all men) who, clearly, saw this as a day for rigorous checks and balances. Men who had questions for Delaney now that they'd still have had if Pep Guardiola himself had just spent the last hour selling a new vision for Irish football.
It was put to Delaney that Liam Brady had called for him to step down; that Andy Townsend had described the FAI as an exercise in 'jobs-for-the-boys'; that close to 20,000 people had signed a petition for the CEO to step down.
And John Delaney, conspicuously 20 years younger than the uniformly grey Board members who'd earlier taken up the front row of the media auditorium, just smiled that gentle, courteous smile.
"Everyone can have their opinions," he said. "You know there's a robust structure to the FAI, I report to a Board with a broader Council, with a strong grassroots and when all this goes away, which it does, I and the Association have to manage 200 employees, big volunteers, loads of clubs which I visit every weekend.
"So we'll get on with developing the game, which we've done. There's big projects. I mean these haven't been reported but the under-21 bid with Northern Ireland..."
Someone interjected that that bid had, in fact, been widely reported.
"Yeah, you did," agreed Delaney. "But not in the last week or so. But that doesn't matter. We have the feasibility study on the World Cup. Dalymount Park, Glanmire, a whole range of projects that we do day in, day out, but they don't get the same attention as today does."
Asked if the opinions of men like Brady or Townsend didn't matter then, he replied, "I wouldn't say that. People are entitled to their opinions, but we've got to get on with doing what we do. And I don't want to get personalised about it. I've a lot of respect for Liam Brady and what Andy Townsend did on the pitch.
"But I'm not going to get into name-calling."
And Aarhus last Monday night? The bizarre case of Danish stewards taking a banner calling for Delaney's removal away from Irish supporters (reputedly under instruction from UEFA for whom Delaney sits on the Executive) as they entered the stadium?
"Honestly, I don't know too much about that."
It was pointed out that the Association's head of security, Joe McGlue, was in the room. Could he maybe solve the puzzle?
It didn't come to that. Instead, Delaney spoke of the Association's healthy relationship with supporters' clubs around the country, suggesting that the time to "try and heal some of those divisions" might be looming now.
Were supporters entitled to voice their opinions in form of a banner, he was asked?
"If supporters want to voice their opinions, I'm not going to prevent them."
Do you not accept that they were prevented from doing so in Aarhus?
"I don't know."
Did the FAI have a role to play in that?
"I would say no. Because I'll tell you why, I wasn't there. Obviously I'm in the stadium with other duties on that day as you could only imagine. What I would like is that there would be some healing when all this settles down. And we'll do our best to do that."
And on it ran, questions about the composition of that largely elderly Board. About governance. About compensation to Dundalk (there will be none). About TD Catherine Murphy's call to have him hauled before an Oireachtas sports committee to demand accountability and transparency from what she has called the "secretive" FAI.
And Delaney, not unreasonably, pointed to the reality that, while his salary was common knowledge to the public, those of his contemporaries in the IRFU and GAA have never been divulged.
"I've been in front of many Dáil committees before, explaining what Irish football does," he said flatly.
"I'm not really interested in sideshows, people making comments for the sake of publicity, I'm more interested in how we develop Irish football.
"If we go to our AGM, we have a finance report from our finance director (Eamon Breen), a treasurer's report from our treasurer Eddie Murphy, we have a report from Frances Smith, who is chairperson of our audit and risk committee. We have extensive reports given on how the Association is run. And we have signed off audited accounts.
"We have probably had 120 committee meetings every year on the development of the game.
"So I think the Association does its business really well and if anybody wants the Association to come in and discuss what I would say are the real parts of Irish football, I'd love to be in there talking about more funding.
"Specifically, I think there are some remarks about League of Ireland at the moment...there is about €60 million of major projects that we are working on in the League of Ireland. There's Dalymount Park at €35m, Glanmire at €11m, Drogheda at €5m, Finn Harps have their new stadium €4-5m, the fourth stand at Shamrock Rovers, again €4-5m.
"These are big projects to improve the League of Ireland and the Association is central to all those strategies.
"So I have no problem meeting anybody who wants to develop Irish football. I am not that interested in people looking for what I would call a bit of self-publicity."
The leather kept whistling by his ears then, nothing really landing. Delaney's composure brought to mind that old American expression of he "could throw a lamb chop past a wolf".
Not once did his voice rise or composure waver.
"Today is about Mick McCarthy, Stephen Kenny, Robbie Keane," he said. "There's lot of stuff to be done. And we'll get on with doing those.
"Do you know what? It's a good plan, it's a good vision..."
And John Delaney got to his feet, the storm finally abated. Not a hair out of place.