Tuesday 20 August 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'In-fighting around changes in Irish football exposes folly of July reform target'

John Delaney. Photo: Sportsfile
John Delaney. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

School is almost out for summer, but there is no end in sight for the FAI's examination process.

There was a feeling that the unofficial end of the John Delaney years would be followed by short-term pain with a view to long-term gain, but the events of the past week suggest the definition of 'short term' might need to be loosely applied.

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If you've tuned out of proceedings and need a tutorial, then here's the brief rundown.

Relations between the FAI board and Shane Ross have deteriorated due to the appointment of Noel Mooney as interim boss - a role he has taken over from Rea Walshe.

Ross was unhappy with this because he wanted a candidate from outside football to step in for the short term, a view that was shared by Sport Ireland and also in some quarters of the FAI.

It's believed that the names considered include Olympic Federation head Sarah Keane, former Athletics Ireland CEO John Foley - who had an interim spell with Cycling Ireland - and high performance expert Gary Keegan, who is best known for his revolutionary work in Irish boxing.

Ross also used Mooney's strong connection with Delaney to question his position, an issue that was always going to be a problem for the FAI, although there's a deep irony in the minister pointing this out given that he was showering praise on the ex-CEO last December.

Lest we forget, Ross and Sport Ireland have shown a belated interest in holding the FAI to account.

The FAI board had to go with UEFA's call because their financial support is steering them through some extremely choppy waters. FIFA also reminded Sport Ireland about the boundaries of government intervention in football.

However, there's also a belief that this suits the FAI troubleshooters, who plan to ride out the storm.

Ross has called a stakeholders forum for this Friday, with all FAI staff invited along with selected guests with something to say.

The highest profile grouping is the consortium put together by Niall Quinn, which has received a lot of coverage without necessarily providing convincing detail.

Quinn is on good terms with Sport Ireland and has also spoken with Mooney, which is why he has moved into a position of influence. His networking ability is a strength.

However, he originally arrived into the debate with a plan for overhauling the League of Ireland. A number of club officials are miffed that Quinn has yet to speak with them.

Indeed, the extent to which Ross is in touch with that community has been questioned, considering that his Mansion House talking shop takes place on the same day as a round of fixtures which will rule out several worthy contributors.

The squabbles between the bigger personalities make for good headlines, yet it is overshadowing a number of other important issues.

For example, the schoolboy game is in a state of confusion after long-standing FAI plans to introduce a countrywide calendar season were abandoned overnight by the interim board.

They are supposed to stand down at the AGM in Trim on July 27, and the intention is that a new board structure will be unveiled then.

That can only happen if two thirds of the FAI Council approve recommendations - factions within the Council hold a range of views.

Some LOI representatives want guarantees that the current board will not seek re-election. Others are wary of change that might weaken the power of their particular sphere of influence and grassroots voices were well represented in the old regime.

The drafting of proposal lies in the hands of the Governance Review Group, a committee made up of FAI representatives (Walshe and Council veteran Niamh O'Donoghue) and three independent Sport Ireland nominees.

Anybody with an interest in Irish football was welcome to make submissions, not just the big-name players that are currently involved.

This group is working towards a draft report on June 14, which is a challenging enough task before you consider the complications presented by the aggro between the FAI and government.

Oh, and then there's the small matter of the six ongoing investigations and what they mean for the FAI, including several people involved in reform talks.

What most of the parties seem to agree on is that this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get things right.

With noses out of joint as a result of the jostling for position, the proposed timeframe has veered from ambitious to ludicrous.

Irish Independent

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