A Dublin AGM lost in the weeds of an All-Ireland football final weekend is far from the vision that John Delaney had for the annual gathering of his football family.
There will come a point where the modern version of the meeting is not automatically compared to the event it used to be in its former life, when it was the low-key conclusion to a festival of fun, cheques and spin in a chosen part of the country.
Everything was alright, the delegates were told, and it was a room packed with people who wanted to believe it.
The atmosphere is different now, all things considered. Reports emanating from Saturday’s summit in the Mansion House detailed a degree of discord on the floor, although when a former member of the Delaney era board is making pointed comments about governance, then one begins to wonder if they are trapped in a particularly complex dream sequence.
Ultimately, the so-called “new FAI” cannot run away from its past because it remains saddled with debt hanging over from it.
Nor does that excuse every imperfection either. What’s clear is that the association remains a work in progress, perhaps more of a work in progress than it had intended to be at this juncture.
This extends to a variety of headings. The initial talking point coming out of Saturday is that a planned re-election of five board members did not take place, with a late deferral note sent out on the eve of the gathering.
The reason put forward is a struggle to meet gender quotas, a deadline which needs to be met by the end of 2023. All sporting bodies receiving state aid need 40 per cent representation at board level. For the FAI, that means finding three new female top table members to join Liz Joyce and Catherine Guy. Terms of the FAI’s 2020 bailout deal with the government also demand that this proportion extends to their entire committee structure.
It’s fair to say this has proved problematic and the fact Joyce and Guy were brought in as independent directors and therefore weren’t elected through the various FAI constituencies points to complications.
A note to the floor referenced a need to “persuade members to nominate women to these positions” which indicates it’s far from straightforward. Another view is that the strength in depth of prospective candidates isn’t there at the moment.
Either way, this is a can that can only be kicked down the road for so long. Three months appears to be the suggestion.
There are other cans which continue to make that journey.
CEO Jonathan Hill has yet to deliver a primary sponsor for the association, a process he has been working on since his appointment in late 2020.
“I hope to have good news soon,” remains the message.
Hill has acknowledged the FAI’s recent history might make some partners “nervous” but stressed his presentations concentrate on the future.
However, with a portion of staff members (SIPTU employees) planning to bring pay issues to the table, and schoolboy football figures remaining upset over where they stand relative to the League of Ireland sphere, there’s a recurring element to the news cycle which cannot be shaken off.
The latter issue will land on the desk of Marc Canham, the new Director of Football who starts work next month. He will be assisted by John Morling, most recently the head of Brighton’s academy and a respected ex-Irish underage manager. Morling is coming in as a full-time football consultant but no details have been given on the length of his stay. “A reasonable period of time,” is the party line.
Meanwhile, the FAI continue to say little about Robbie Keane’s imminent departure, only confirming his contract expires this month. Hill has stayed true to a promise to Keane that he would not get drawn into media discussion on this contentious subject.
The current Abbotstown executive will say they inherited Keane’s €250,000 per year deal and have never criticised the record goalscorer for a deeply unusual and embarrassing situation arising from the Mick McCarthy to Stephen Kenny handover. It remains to be seen if his exit will be marked in any way. Pretending it never happened will not make questions go away.
Kenny’s contract is one box that was ticked in the past year, and perhaps that clears the path for consideration of weightier topics from a long term perspective. When the FAI’s strategic plan was launched earlier this year, it was met with a mixed review.
While there’s a damned if they do, damned if they don’t aspect to poking fun at ambition, several unrealistic targets took away from the more constructive aspects of the document.
Already, there’s been a slight shift of the goalposts with Hill confirming that the new proposed third tier of the League of Ireland has been pushed back from 2023 to 2024. This will come as no surprise to insiders who knew the initial timeframe was wildly optimistic given the consultation that would be required to bring unconvinced new parties on board.
The delay is minor in the greater scheme of things once the project is eventually delivered. We could do without another entry to the ‘believe it when we see it’ folder, which contains most of the proposed LOI stadium renovations.
Selling patience to a parish frustrated by age-old problems is a challenge. There is an acknowledgement the FAI have made some interesting hires with a desire to make improvements, yet the extent to which they can do their job effectively remains locked in with funding concerns.
Hope lingers that work behind the scenes will eventually lead to significantly increased government assistance yet the front of house picture will influence the mood toward it. Hence, a degree of apprehension. The FAI is supposed to be beyond the era of writing cheques they cannot cash.