Sunday 19 November 2017

Daniel McDonnell: John Delaney response offers an insight into FAI approach to a national team crisis

FAI Chief Executive John Delaney. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
FAI Chief Executive John Delaney. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Interviews with John Delaney are so rare that they should be celebrated, not criticised.

But just as the Irish women's side were attempting to put last week's drama behind them and concentrate on today's friendly with Slovakia, the FAI CEO decided to break his silence and wade into the dispute that grabbed the attention of the nation.

Delaney was doing his thing in Cork on Saturday, pressing the flesh on another grassroots outing to Ringmahon and he stopped to speak with local station Red FM.

Inevitably, discussion turned to the very public row between the FAI and their leading female players which was only resolved by negotiations that went deep into the early hours.

The tone adopted by the Waterford man was one of surprise. That was actually a specific word he used along with a feeling of confusion given that, in his opinion, the players eventually accepted a deal that was on the table before their remarkable Tuesday morning show of unity at Liberty Hall made headlines around the world.

"There's no point going back over it because the matter is resolved now but what I will say is that last Sunday Peter McLoone had been proposed by us as a mediator to discuss on all of those issues," said Delaney. "A lot of people in the FAI were really confused as to why the position we put to them (the players) on Sunday was accepted after the press conference. That was a surprise."

That observation was described as "untrue" by PFAI solicitor Stuart Gilhooly - the squad's chosen representative - who said that the players had agreed to mediation on the Monday provided it was wrapped up quickly.

Read more: 'They are inaccurate' - PFAI respond to John Delaney's 'surprised' and 'confused' comments

Ultimately, the nub of the issue is that they wanted the PFAI to speak on their behalf whereas the FAI wanted to deal with them directly. To get bogged down in the finer detail of that issue is to miss the basic point - that it took until last weekend for the FAI to seriously address the grievances of Colin Bell's squad.

Delaney failed to explain why the conditions that existed until this week's talks had become the status quo. Instead, he defended the FAI's record by outlining how they had invested in the women's game. Which is laudable, although there is a point where it's hardly impolite to suggest that it is actually the association's job to do so.

Current Ireland assistant Roy Keane once shrugged off plaudits for his famous performance in the 1999 Champions League semi-final with Juventus by comparing it to "praising the postman for delivering your letters".

But the FAI's response to criticism of this flashpoint would suggest that a post office with their mindset would look for congratulations upon the successful delivery of Christmas cards in the second week of January. Keane was being modest, of course. That was one of the great Irish displays on the European stage.

Delaney's description of his appointment to UEFA's Executive Committee indicated that we can now expect more of the same from Ireland's foremost blazer in the corridors of power.

"I'm very proud," he said, "It's a big honour to represent Ireland at the highest level of European football."

That said, UEFA's top table has a road to travel before elevation to that bracket can be spoken of in the same terms as Champions League qualification. Delaney's board colleagues include Polish FA head Zbigniew Boniek, a great player at Juventus under Giovanni Trapattoni, who tweeted a fortnight ago that: "Without exaggeration, when we talk about football, a woman's input is useless."

Boniek later defended his comments by claiming it was a joke. In February, he said that he wanted a seat in the UEFA hierarchy for reasons of "vanity and convenience", adding that the ability to source tickets for elite games at short notice was a particular attraction.

Clearly, there are contrasting views around the table on what the highest level entails.

The best footballers need to be strong in the area of decision-making and awareness and maybe the same could be said of the blue-chip administrators.

Unfortunately, the FAI's assessment of their role in the feud with their elite female players has highlighted a spectacular lack of self-awareness.

Just look at last Tuesday's official statement from Abbotstown for the evidence.

"On five occasions in recent months the FAI has attempted to bring the players to the table, only to have the offer rebuked (rebuffed?) at every turn," read the statement.

"Efforts to engage the team, in good faith, have taken place on the following dates. October 16, March 22, March 28, March 31, April 2."

In other words, nothing for five months and then four attempts in the space of a fortnight when the penny dropped.

The curious admission adds weight to the perception that the authorities didn't view the dressing room unrest as an active concern.

We should not be surprised by their confusion.

Irish Independent

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