Friday 24 January 2020

Daniel McDonnell: 'Future of the FAI depends on its capacity to move away from carry-on of a shameful past'


The delegates might just be paying a little more attention than usual to the section where long-term auditors Deloitte come in and give their spiel. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
The delegates might just be paying a little more attention than usual to the section where long-term auditors Deloitte come in and give their spiel. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The FAI's search for a lasting New Year resolution will continue at their second AGM of the year tomorrow. It's safe to say that the delegates are unlikely to be reflecting on 12 months that met with all of their expectations.

In a parallel universe, the FAI were planning to be debt free by 2020, with John Delaney the hero of the hour.

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Exit door: Donal Conway’s replacement as FAI president will be voted in on January 25 at another EGM. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Exit door: Donal Conway’s replacement as FAI president will be voted in on January 25 at another EGM. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

The reports of last year's AGM debrief could reasonably be a contender for framed inclusion if the next National Football Exhibition chronicles a decade of delusion.

"We can do it," Delaney said ahead of that gathering in Cork. "I think that we have kept our word.

"We have said in the past that we can do it and we are demonstrating how we can. We owe €29.5 million to our banking partner. Next year it will be less than 20 and if we choose to make it debt-free by 2020 that will be the case."

One must speculate on where we would be if details of a €100,000 payment made by Delaney to his employer hadn't been revealed in the Sunday Times in March.

Or, more pertinently, if judge Anthony Barr had decided against ruling in favour of the newspaper when the then FAI CEO made a last-minute attempt to block publication.

It's safe to assume that the AGM would have been a one-off gig in Meath during the summer.

Remember, part two is taking place tomorrow because the original meeting - an event that became the centrepiece of a Festival of Football during the Delaney years - had to be adjourned because the accounts weren't ready.

Implications

That was in July. We now know that the process of pouring through the accounts needed a bit of work. Indeed, the implications of that work will be felt through the decade ahead - never mind the coming months.

The delegates might just be paying a little more attention than usual to the section where long-term auditors Deloitte come in and give their spiel.

Regular attendees of the annual gathering might have vague recollections of this formality. Deloitte have carried out the function for 23 years. In recent times, the accounts ratification by the membership was occasion for the spontaneous shows of support for the leader and defiant speeches from the stage. Some of those who participated in the charade were embarrassed.

After one renewal, a delegate approached the media tables on the way out. They shook their head and made a quip about the ridiculous nature of one ovation for Delaney.

"Why did you stand up for it then?" asked one of the journalist.

A sheepish response referenced ambitions to take a seat on one of the lower committees and the belief that people were watching audience reactions.

This was the reality of a meeting devoid of substance.

In that regard, Act I of this year's AGM was better because it featured some discourse. However, it's abundantly obvious now that the FAI were still struggling to accept, or fully convey, the seriousness of the situation. Maybe they just didn't know yet.

"I think that it has been documented that it has been difficult and it remains difficult. But we have a road map on where we want to get to," said Paul Cooke, then the newly elected vice president, when pressed on the financial strategy.

President Donal Conway defended Delaney's 2020 debt-free predictions. "It was achievable," he claimed, "It was based on bringing forward future income streams, which is not the way we want to behave"

We will never know if Delaney would have attempted to proceed with this plan if events hadn't intervened.

Rivers of debt would have been waiting over the horizon somewhere. The AGM is not the arena where the questions would have been asked.

Even in the summer, there was a sense that the established council members were backing football people to plot a new way forward.

Conway's re-election was accompanied by messages that overestimated the immediate impact of the work of a Governance Review Group.

The fact that Conway and John Earley went forward for another year highlighted a lack of appreciation of where things were going and it's no surprise that both have been forced to stand down.

Conway's replacement will be voted in on January 25 at another EGM, which means the great and the good are getting to see more of each other than normal. There's a rule change related EGM pencilled in for this weekend too.

Top table declarations will be of interest.

After taking a kicking for nine months, it's perhaps understandable that the FAI want to make references to drawing a line under what's gone before and look forward. And the posturing of Shane Ross has succeeded in winding them up.

There can be no equivocation about it, though. Irish football has endured a catastrophic year at administrative level.

We've had four individuals effectively serve as CEO or a position with comparable functions - Delaney, Rea Walshe, Noel Mooney and the current executive lead Paul Cooke. A fifth, John Foley, turned down the opportunity at the last minute.

The board has been overhauled, although the bulk of the replacements have served their time at council level - where the clock is ticking on the veterans.

Focus has naturally turned to senior management staff, the main reminder of the so-called 'old FAI' now left in the set-up. It feels like there are more problems to solve before a fresh start can truly be declared.

Doomsday

Restoring state funding and support is a necessary for basic economic survival with UEFA pivotal to that. But restoring the confidence of the Irish public is a greater challenge. The doomsday scenarios laid out at the last Oireachtas Committee meeting angered the football community and focused minds.

Outside of that sphere, however, the FAI has become a punchline and a laughing stock. End-of-year awards shows passed by with token references to football, the ignored Bounty in the box of Celebrations.

Euro 2020 should be the centre of next year, but there is no guarantee of Irish participation. Doubts around Dublin's ability to stage four games due to the FAI's turmoil have always seemed far-fetched, yet the very fact it has even become a talking point says it all.

2019 will go down as the year of four CEOs and a funeral, the death of a regime that has starved the sport of dignity. Denial is a part of the grieving process.

The tone of the message tomorrow needs to reflect that the FAI have truly moved past it.

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