Friday 23 March 2018

Athletics: Hennessy calls for united front after retaining AAI presidency

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

IT is time to draw a line in the sand and move on.

That was the firm message yesterday from Athletics Ireland (AAI) president Liam Hennessy, who survived a challenge from former president Michael Heery at an explosive fifth AAI Congress in Sligo.

Given the association's turbulent history under Hennessy's first two-year watch, his margin -- 157-93 -- was significant, and he immediately pleaded with members to "leave the past behind".

"I express my deep regret, as president, for this period of turmoil, but I did everything I believed was right for the association at the time," he stressed after a particularly stormy Congress.

Even before the 2008 minutes were signed off, the chairman of the Meath board, Brendan Meade, stood up to question Hennessy's suitability to chair it, a suggestion which got short shrift from the floor.

The president still came under fire from many who sought reasons for the association's dismissal of ex-CEO Mary Coghlan and the costly High Court settlement which yielded her €125,000 plus costs, on top of a €30,000 termination payment.

Hennessy momentarily broke down towards the end of his address yet was still standing at the end of the day.

And his beaten opponent Heery was gracious while cautioning: "If anyone in the association is still harbouring a personal agenda, for God's sake, give it up."

Hennessy gave few specifics on the legal case, stressing: "I do not want to reignite litigation and controversy, it is time to leave the past behind us."

He said he had received threatening emails and texts and was subjected to "a personalised hate campaign which took a huge toll on myself and my family. I refused to walk away, I decided I would not be intimidated by bully-boy tactics," he stressed in a spirited defence.


Patsy McGonagle, the 2008 Olympic team manager and outgoing Chair of High Performance, also took some flak for taking a legal action against his own board during the same turbulent period.

But McGonagle, who did not seek re-election, revealed: "I got an apology and a settlement, and within five minutes of receiving it I had handed the money back to Athletics Ireland. I just had to clear my name. After 40 years in the sport it was a disgrace."

The outgoing Chairman of Finance & Risk, Gerry Giblin, confirmed that the association suffered a deficit of €390,500 last year, largely due to legal fees.

He alleged that "the outgoing board failed its remit by not properly handling a substantial complaint by an employee or dealing with interference by the Sports Council."

Giblin revealed that he personally is taking separate legal actions against the Sports Council.

CEO John Foley got a round of applause when he pleaded "that there be no mudslinging here. We need to move on, we are here to foster the growth of athletics, nothing else."

And while delegates like Padraig Griffin (Leitrim) and Michael Quinlan (Cork) were equally conciliatory, others were not.

The outgoing chairman of the Coaching Committee, Paddy Fay, accused the High Performance Committee of undermining his own, and the Sports Council of "treating us like children".

The next two-year executive has a very new look. Sligo's Ray Flynn is the new chairman of High Performance, defeating Maeve Kyle by a 199-50 margin.

Jim Kidd (DSD) will be chairman of the Coaching Committee after beating Nick Davis 197-53 and Ciaran O Cathain (Roscommon) beat Michael Quinlan 205-43 in the contest for the chairman of Finance & Risk.

Leinster's outgoing board representative Ronnie Quigley pipped Georgina Drumm 45-43 (after a re-count) and Mary Cronin defeated Martin Fitzgerald (43-37) for Munster's seat. Neil Martin (returned) and Jim Ryan (unopposed) will represent Ulster and Connacht respectively.

Irish Independent

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