Thursday 19 September 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'John Delaney looks to the long term but scale of the FAI crisis means uncertainty pervades'


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

Daniel McDonnell

'As we say, 'Céad Míle Fáilte' which means in Irish, 'Good evening and welcome' to Dublin for the draw for the UEFA U-17 finals."

After a strange couple of weeks for John Delaney, he can probably be forgiven for getting slightly lost in translation with his opening comments at the Aviva Stadium last night.

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He was speaking at the draw for May's finals in Ireland in his capacity as the chair of the UEFA Youth & Amateur Football Committee.

But he was on familiar terrain and in the company of familiar faces.

FAI president Donal Conway introduced Delaney, who was turned out in his official UEFA blazer, as the first special guest.

Several other members of the FAI board were also in attendance, a few rows back from the stage.

Sitting next to them was Fianna Fáil's Kevin O'Keeffe TD, who will be a part of the Dáil committee that welcomes Delaney and a TBC list of FAI acolytes into their domain next Wednesday.

The evidence of the Sport Ireland hearing last Wednesday would suggest they are unlikely to receive a hundred thousand welcomes.

Perhaps O'Keeffe - who bought two full-price tickets for last summer's World Cup final after Delaney pointed him in the right direction - merely wanted to demonstrate that he is interested in the underage game too.

He is a Fianna Fáil spokesperson on sport, after all.

Other committee members turned down a request to attend the draw.

Delaney didn't break too far from the normal protocol for speeches at these gatherings.

There were references to the grassroots football people of Ireland, a number of whom were also present for the shindig.

The formalities of the draw was followed by a dinner for guests.

Tournament ambassador John O'Shea was present for the occasion and the new FAI executive vice-president did have kind words to say about his fellow Waterford man.

"One of the best professional footballers I dealt with in my time as CEO of the FAI," he said.

Delaney did also veer into subject matter that is intended to be a part of his new role.

His backers have stated that retaining the 51-year-old makes sense because of his expertise in the UEFA and FIFA circles.

"A lot of what the FAI has been trying to do is to bring big events to Ireland," he said pointedly.

"The Euros is coming next year in 2020. We have an U-21 bid for 2023 with Northern Ireland.

"Just in the week gone by, the five national associations have met about the feasibility study and proposed bid for the 2030 World Cup."

That's an ambitious long-term vision when there's so much short-term doubt surrounding Delaney and the FAI's position in light of the furore created by revelations of his €100,000 loan to his employer.

Conway made a quick exit afterwards without speaking, while board counterparts declined to stop and speak when asked, and we are still waiting to find out who will show up in front of the Oireachtas.

An FAI council meeting on Tuesday is not expected to go ahead.

The general feeling is that it will be hard for the FAI to turn down a request from the Dáil committee that Delaney comes to the table with board members - who deal with corporate governance - as opposed to football staff members such as Ruud Dokter and Fran Gavin.

At this stage, it's difficult to predict what the outcome of this process will be with the confusion around Delaney's 2017 loan lingering.

One hopes there will be closure when May's finals come around.

It would be a shame if that tournament was dominated by a blazer chase, but it's hard to rule that out if the status quo remains.

There is reason to be optimistic about the players coming through the ranks and a draw with Belgium, Czech Republic and Greece is favourable enough for Colin O'Brien's side.

They will play two games in Tallaght and one in Waterford and the fact his homeplace is the stage means John will be there for that one. That's John O'Shea, of course.

He hopes this event provides another opportunity for Brian Kerr's U-16 heroes of 1998 together again.

In other circumstances, Kerr might have appeared at this event too. But this is Irish football as we know it.

For now, at least.

Irish Independent

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