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Tuesday 18 June 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Appointment of Noel Mooney is a tough sell for Irish football'


Noel Mooney talking to John Delaney in 2017
Noel Mooney talking to John Delaney in 2017
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

As a goalkeeper, Noel Mooney was used to dealing with shots from all angles.

He will be returning to that mode as the interim boss of the troubled FAI.

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It's fair to say that in football circles, the response to this appointment has been mixed.

Before the recent crisis that engulfed Irish football, any description of Mooney's graduation from the FAI to a job in UEFA would have referenced the good relationship he enjoyed with John Delaney.

Two years ago, he was the special guest at the FAI's AGM - an event which always stressed that everything was rosy in the garden - and Mooney's contributions were in keeping with the message.

A number of his ex-colleagues have spoken both publicly and privately about their scepticism towards this UEFA-driven stopgap, offering the view that Mooney was always John Delaney's man.

Noel Mooney playing for Shamrock Rovers in 2004. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Noel Mooney playing for Shamrock Rovers in 2004. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

That complicates the attempt to present him as a face of reform - and the FAI are clearly aware of that. Mooney is too.

The 17-minute interview on the FAI's TV channel gave him the chance to deny some claims in an attempt to clean the slate going forward, but it will take more than that.

Mooney has spoken with a number of people within Irish football over the past 72 hours and is understood to be tackling the strength of the Delaney links, stating that he wasn't always on the same page as his former boss - especially when it came to the funding of the League of Ireland.

He has already moved to make contact with some of the ex-CEO's long-term adversaries, some of whom like Mooney on a personal level.

Noel Mooney with the FAI’s Fran Gavin after being appointed National Clubs Promotion Officer in 2006. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Noel Mooney with the FAI’s Fran Gavin after being appointed National Clubs Promotion Officer in 2006. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

"Noel is under no illusion about what faces him," says one Abbotstown source who is open to giving the ex-League of Ireland player a chance.

"He needs the public and people to believe he is here to build, not plaster."

That is much easier said than done.

Sport Ireland, Minister for Sport Shane Ross and some FAI officials are thought to have favoured an outsider with no recent FAI connections.

The logic behind that was understandable, as the reaction to the arrival wouldn't have been accompanied by old photos and old quotes that leave the stopgap solution on the back foot.

Then again, both Minister Ross and Sport Ireland can also be damned by their back catalogue of discussing the FAI hierarchy. What is more significant is that they simply do not have the power to get their way.

UEFA are effectively paying the bills for the FAI now, and the Abbotstown hierarchy can point to strict FIFA rules on government interference in football as justification for following their wishes.

Statements insist that Mooney will return to Switzerland on November 30, although UEFA sources have suggested that the picture with these secondments can change.

There are well-connected individuals with a knowledge of both the workings of the FAI and UEFA claiming that the idea was floated back in March around the time that Delaney sidestepped from chief executive to executive vice-president off the back of the Jonathan Hall review which was adopted during Ireland's trip to Gibraltar.

Rea Walshe was duly ushered in as the new interim CEO. In the FAI video, Mooney said he'd never discussed the CEO role in the past, and dismissed a specific question on whether he was involved in the genesis of that Hall report. The FAI say that both Mooney and president Donal Conway will be available for a press event soon and the message they present will be important.

There may be complications when it comes to discussing a number of the ongoing reviews. With Delaney on the FAI's version of gardening leave while matters are resolved, specific discussion of matters under review is likely to be off limits on legal advice.

Still, there are other topics that Mooney should be well able to discuss - and deal with it in a satisfactory manner. For example, he may have to reflect on the legacy of the Vantage Club, a costly failure which left a legacy of stifling debt. He was drafted in to the ticket-selling roadshow during his time with the FAI.

With a title which makes him the manager of Football Services and Partnerships, he will have to lay out if he ever had any reservations about how the FAI have managed their relationships with the 'football family' in recent memory - especially those who were critical of the sitting regime.

These are difficult questions, but inevitable ones if you parachute in somebody with a certain amount of baggage.

A soft landing was always going to be an unrealistic aspiration.

Irish Independent

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