Tuesday 15 October 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Game of two halves - Tactics run out of steam on a damaging day for Irish football'


John Delaney with FAI Officials pictured leaving Leinster House after the PAC hearing. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
John Delaney with FAI Officials pictured leaving Leinster House after the PAC hearing. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
‘People across the State are scarlet for you’, said Imelda Munster, as proceedings entered the tragi-comic phase. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The FAI's date in the Dáil was a tactical battle which was approached with a clearly defined gameplan.

It served them well until half-time. John Delaney's production of a statement and accompanying legal advice left the Oireachtas Committee on Sport in a spin.

"They're acting the b******s," said one committee member, in the first recess, with a tone that almost hinted at respect.

The natives might have intended to target the FAI's highest profile player, but they weren't really able to get near him. Instead, it was the president of the FAI, Donal Conway, that was taking the hits.

The approach was laboured and, at times, the committee overplayed. Conway was measured in the face of any onslaught.

Senator Mark Daly, who redeemed himself later with some pertinent questions about the €100,000 loan issue, took everyone to the corner flag for a time with a meandering statement about the women's team.

At this point, the clock was the FAI's friend and it went in at the interval comfortably ahead. But it changed after lunch when the strength of its earlier strategy became its weakness.

Delaney was still out of the firing line, a fact that was commented upon by several committee members, but the parliamentary team sought to hone in on the FAI's strength in depth.

Conway was bypassed. And, crucially, the hosts brought in a few subs, most notably Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O'Brien - a key figure in the rebirth of Cork City FC.

Direct and straight questioning highlighted the dearth of answers.

We had the honorary treasurer, Eddie Murray, admitting that he didn't know about the €100,000 loan in 2017 - the solution to a serious cash-flow problem - and stating that he didn't feel undermined by it.

A new communications officer, Cathal Dervan, wasn't able to confirm who exactly had signed off on a press release issued on March 18, which said the entire board was informed.

A newly appointed finance director, Alex O'Connell, was called up from the back row amid confusion over how many bank accounts the FAI had, and to deal with queries about the existence of a tax clearance cert.

It was pointed out that the FAI's high-performance director, Ruud Dokter, had been sitting there for eight hours.

And Conway confirmed that the legal adviser that was present with their delegation was there on behalf of Delaney - not the association.

Páraic Treanor, another long-serving board member, spoke in the final minutes to confirm that he - and some of his colleagues - were also waiting on the findings of the Mazars and Grant Thornton reviews for clarity on certain matters.

"It's worse than I thought," said Ruth Coppinger TD later, admitting her surprise that only three board members - Delaney, honorary secretary Michael Cody and ex-president Tony Fitzgerald - were aware of the entire situation in 2017.

As the afternoon session progressed, the most striking aspect of proceedings was Delaney's silence as colleagues struggled around him.

With Conway at the wheel, this was working. When the others were brought into the fray, it was not. Certain answers were followed by long pauses and whispered discussions between the FAI team. Notes were scribbled. O'Brien's focus on the process for issuing Uefa prize money to League of Ireland clubs provoked lengthy ruminations.

This was now about much more than the FAI's €100,000 loan. This was about how Irish football has governed itself.

It is right to say that no smoking gun was produced. That was never going to happen in this format. Delaney was well protected but, as the minutes passed, the FAI's reputation was gradually chipped away at. Worn down by the defensive effort.

"People across the State are scarlet for you," said Imelda Munster TD, as proceedings entered the tragi-comic phase.

It is unclear, however, if there is any referee with the power to dish out the necessary red cards.

Irish Independent

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