Friday 23 August 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Joining the Delaney dots'

Supporting cast members in the John Delaney story offer a remarkable insight to his time at the top of FAI, writes Daniel McDonnell

John Delaney in 2003. Photo: Sportsfile
John Delaney in 2003. Photo: Sportsfile

In January 2003, the English football magazine 'When Saturday Comes' turned its attention to Irish football affairs.

Saipan was barely out of the rear view mirror, and the Genesis Report was the roadsign that elements of officialdom were trying to ignore.

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Noel King. Photo: Sportsfile
Noel King. Photo: Sportsfile

The search for a reforming hero was drawing eyes to a 35-year-old that had come to prominence through the chaos. "Hope rests with honorary treasurer John Delaney," wrote WSC. "A young self-made millionaire with good connections and impressive drive.

"It was he who backed Genesis, insisting 'I would have considered my position if nothing had been done.' It is an indication of his clout that the report was sanctioned, even though it was bound to lead to the association's public humiliation."

You've got to love the foresight of the archives.

Earlier this week, a screenshot did the rounds. It was the confirmation that Delaney had stepped down from the FAI's board after 17 years, with the changes filed with the Companies Registration Office.

John Giles, Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy. Photo: Sportsfile
John Giles, Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy. Photo: Sportsfile

The statements of support from around the country this week - which have all managed to strike a remarkably similar tone - suggest there's a substantial parish who hope there's plenty of road left in his Irish football journey.

As it happens, the confusion around his €100,000 bridging loan to the FAI have almost brought Delaney back to where he started, in the sense that his position is caught up in the tangled web of Irish football business. His rise to power coincided with a high turnover of senior figures, and rows around minute-taking, personality clashes and old grudges.

He's moved far beyond that during his tenure at the top of the tree, as the briefest glance through a scrapbook of Delaney memories illustrates.

In a way, he brought FAI blazerdom into the mainstream, to places you never could have imagined.

From celebrity dancing competitions with Nadia Forde, to opening sand sculpting festivals in Duncannon, Co Wexford. From racing off to meet the Queen, to presenting U-12 medals.

It's unlikely that the next CEO will be on the pitch after European Championships qualifiers, performing their own lap of honour after matches and throwing ties to the masses.

It's unlikely he or she will be in an Irish bar ahead of a crunch match, standing in the background as Ray Houghton - a man responsible for two of the best moments in the country's football history -tells fans to appreciate the qualities of their chief executive.

This was all recorded on camera phone, a three-and-a-half-minute clip from Moscow in September 2011 ahead of Richard Dunne's miracle the following day. It kicks off with Delaney singing that old song about how Giovanni Trapattoni used to be Italian but he's Irish now. He takes the microphone and announces Houghton is about to say a few words.

"Before you get a drink," says Houghton. "John Delaney, in my opinion, epitomises what the FAI are about today. John is here, in amongst you, to enjoy the night, and show his loyalty."

As the cheers rise, Delaney waves and gives the thumbs up. That Euro 2012 campaign really was quite something. At a time where debt levels in the association were rising and cutbacks were underway, there was no recession when it came to Irish away trips.

Time moves along. Two years later it was Delaney's job to sit down with Trapattoni and admit that it wasn't working. A lot of the fans that cheered his name during that campaign now jeer the CEO, with a row over tickets around the Scotland match in late 2014 ending the love-in for one vocal section of support.

But Delaney had a strong enough base to overcome the grief, as evidenced by the storm around the €5m FIFA deal with Sepp Blatter which was first reported in 2014 and became big news the following year when he opened up about the details.

The singing of a republican ballad in a Dublin pub was another controversy; there were a number of ex-Irish internationals present at the time and another couple who had just made their excuses and left beforehand.

Delaney's networking has been extraordinary, crossing a number of boundaries within Irish society. He could be turning sod in a football club in a far flung part of Ireland on one week securing their loyalty for life, and turning up at the Sunday Independent Christmas party the next.

He did have strong connections in the political world, and spoke at one point about how he was even approached to stand for election.

He may not have conversed much with football journalists, disliking their negativity about the state of the FAI's finances, but he was friends with newspaper editors and some sports editors too.

It wasn't unusual for new arrivals into those positions to receive a dinner invite. The same applied to emerging pundits coming onto the RTE scene; the old panel were generally quite kind to the FAI regime although John Giles and Liam Brady have gone in different ways since then.

Giles is strongly in the Delaney camp. Brady said in his 'Irish Examiner' column that he would "prefer change in the FAI to (Euro 2020) qualification, if the latter meant that the status quo in Abbotstown was maintained."

The network Delaney built may have retained some foundations, but the house may not be good for business any more. Former players that have come out in support of Delaney have been surprised by some of the backlash.

Others have been inspired to think more deeply about the period we have lived through. Even some of his supporters admit to amusement at the idiosyncrasies of his reign, the celebrity coating of an administrative role.

On his last visit to the Dáil for a committee hearing, politicians fawned over Delaney, perhaps recognising the attributes that would have allowed him to do very well in their domain. He will receive a very different welcome this Wednesday, as part of an attempt to figure out what today's FAI epitomises.

The board


The chair of the Domestic Committee joined the FAI board in January 2004 and is a long-serving member of the Ulster FA who hails from Buncrana.


The retired Garda superintendent moved up the ladder of the FAI while representing Monaghan United. Murray (79) is the FAI’s honorary treasurer and chair of the Finance Committee and has been a board member since January 2004.


The retired FBD insurance executive (79) is a close ally of Delaney, a Corkman who was a Cobh Ramblers representative at FAI level as he moved up the ranks to become honorary secretary. An extension of age limits allowed Cody and Murray to stay on after turning 75.


The United Churches League secretary and Leinster Football Association delegate joined the FAI board in December 2004, the same month Delaney became interim CEO. He is the chair of the Legal and Corporate Affairs Committee.


An FAI board member since September 2005, the former school principal has a background in the schools game and initially served as the chair of the Underage Committee on the FAI board. He became president of the FAI last year.


The chair of the National League executive was a Galway United delegate who was elected vicechairman of the league in late 2006 and then became the chair of the National League executive as he joined the board in 2007.


He replaced the late Tim Fitzgerald on the board in May 2015 and is chair of the Underage Committee. The Clonmel man’s background is in the Schoolboy Football Association of Ireland. He founded Clerihan FC in 2001.


The chair of the International Committee had a ground named after him in Clounreask last weekend, in recognition of his 37-year service to the Limerick Desmond League. Delaney was present for the opening. Hanley joined the FAI board in March 2017.


O’Donoghue was a high-ranking civil servant with the Department of Social Protection and has a long relationship with the women’s game in Ireland. She joined the FAI board in 2017 after a merger between the FAI and the WFAI. It followed a turbulent year, when the FAI’s treatment of the senior women’s team was strongly criticised.


Fitzroy’s background is with Dublin’s United Churches League, and he served as chairman of the FAI Junior Council. He was brought onto the board as vice-president last August.

Managers - past and present


Delaney’s first major call as CEO was the decision not to renew Kerr’s contract and it’s safe to say there is no love lost between the pair. Kerr hasn’t worked for the FAI since his exit, an absence from the coalface that has angered sections of the Irish football community.


The ‘world-class management team’ hired to replace Kerr was Staunton and international consultant Bobby Robson. But the FAI’s patience ran out after a slapstick Euro 2008 campaign where supporter anger was also aimed at the CEO.


The support of Denis O’Brien allowed the FAI to go after Trapattoni and the Italian stayed for five and a half years. He was kept on for a third campaign after a rough Euro 2012 showing and his job was severely under threat after a 6-1 home defeat to Germany. The FAI board told him to go and watch more games, which led to a well publicised scouting trip to Norwich. He exited the post after a meeting with Delaney in September 2013.


The long-term target came on board in October 2013 after a protracted negotiation and every new contract he signed was attached with a degree of confusion related to the signing and sealing of it. O’Neill was given a contract for a third campaign but in contrast to Trapattoni, the FAI moved early to arrange a settlement.


It was an unlikely reunion for the old foes when Keane ended up in a London hotel meeting Delaney after O’Neill indicated he wanted to bring in the Corkman as his number two. We were told by Delaney that it was all water under the bridge. Keane has yet to give an interview on his departure from the post.


Another Saipan reunion. Delaney was treasurer in 2002 and was caught up in a story that year related to the fuss around a signing-on fee in a contract offer to McCarthy. The Barnsley man was overlooked for O’Neill but was always keen to come back. He dealt well with the subject of the offfield drama as it overshadowed his comeback.


Ireland’s record goalscorer is back in an FAI tracksuit working alongside McCarthy’s longterm number two Terry Connor.


The rabbit out of the hat in November was a succession plan that would see the ex-Dundalk boss take over from McCarthy once Irish interest in Euro 2020 ends. Kenny turned down the U-21 post before an improved offer from the FAI and Delaney led to his decision to leave Dundalk.

The technical directors


The ex-Ireland goalkeeper had a good working relationship with Brian Kerr and left his position as FAI Technical Director in 2010 as part of cost cutting measures. It was not a happy ending and he turned down an offer to stay as an ambassador.


The Dutchman was recruited as the High Performance Director in 2008 with Bonner as part of the recruitment process. Koevermans left in the summer of 2012 to become the new head coach of India after receiving mixed reviews.


Has made a bigger impact and has overseen the introduction of the national underage leagues – leading schoolboy clubs feel the changes were brought in too quickly. His role was also broadened out in the succession plan that led to Stephen Kenny taking over some of his old responsibilities with the men’s underage sides.

The ex-players

Delaney has spent plenty of time in the company of ex-Ireland internationals over the years, with ambassadorial roles and appearances around the FAI AGM making it for a mutually-beneficial relationship in certain instances. RAY HOUGHTON, RONNIE WHELAN and PAUL McGRATH are three members of Jack Charlton’s famous teams who have regularly appeared at FAI events across his time.

STEPHEN HUNT is a newer face that has come out to bat for Delaney over the past fortnight. DAMIEN DUFF, RICHARD DUNNE and SHAY GIVEN came through at a similar time and they’ve had their issues with the FAI over the years, although Duff and Dunne have spent time in the Irish coaching set-up.

Given was disappointed he didn’t get a ROBBIE KEANE-style send-off when his Irish career ended and recounted an awkward moment with Delaney at a Euro 2012-bonus meeting when he brought up a negative newspaper comment that Given’s father had previously made about the CEO’s wages.

ANDY REID and KEITH ANDREWS are recent appointments to FAI staff; the latter was a formidable pundit on a variety of topics while working in the media and had described Delaney’s €5m post-Paris deal with Sepp Blatter as disgusting.

NIALL QUINN has made life uncomfortable for Delaney by outlining a new plan for the League of Ireland and pouring scorn on the executive vice-president solution.

Sporting politicians


The pair clashed after Ireland lost the World Cup play-off to France and it later emerged the FAI got €5m as a ‘loan’ to avoid going down legal route. Blatter had openly mocked Delaney over his 33rd team request. In 2015, Delaney said that Blatter had eyed up his girlfriend Emma English at a function.


The Frenchman attended the 2006 All- Ireland hurling final with Delaney. That relationship was credited as helping the FAI when it came to the 2011 Europa League final bid. Delaney backed Platini as a Sepp Blatter replacement but distanced himself when the UEFA president resigned after a ban related to a payment from Blatter.


Delaney was on the OCI committee with Hickey and they were pictured together at the 2012 Olympics. Indeed, Delaney was tipped as Hickey’s replacement. The FAI chief’s name was drawn into the ticket crisis surrounding Hickey and the Rio Games. He denied having any involvement in OCI ticket matters and resigned as a Vice President.


There were a few ropey moments with Sport Ireland early in Delaney’s tenure arising from the implementation of the Genesis Report but the relationship seemed strong until recently. On Wednesday, Treacy stated he is unhappy with the FAI’s governance.


Delaney had aligned himself with the Slovenian rising star and helped lobby for his candidacy. Delaney has since joined UEFA’s Executive Committee.

The three wise men

John Giles, Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy were critical of the FAI board as the Steve Staunton years collapsed but they would soon become part of the story. Giles was part of the process to find the next manager, and Brady joined Giovanni Trapattoni’s coaching staff. Dunphy shed tears at the appointment and backed Delaney when the disastrous pricing of the Vantage Club scheme caused serious problems. He has since admitted that he was just happy the FAI had a brand new home and hadn’t necessarily delved into the detail. Dunphy’s stance on Delaney seems to vary from week to week but Giles is a fervent backer and the John Giles Foundation is controlled by the FAI and remains one of the Executive Vice President’s tasks. Brady has gone the other way. “The only progress that has happened (in 15 years) is that John’s career has gone up and up,” he says.

Sporting friends

Delaney has plenty of connections in the GAA world. He was close to Páidí Ó Sé with a connection going back to his time running a bakery in Kerry. Curiously, Delaney is a Waterford man who supports the Kilkenny hurlers and was snapped on the team bus enjoying their celebrations after the 2015 All-Ireland win. Defender Paul Murphy detailed how he would receive the odd good luck text.

Celebrity squares

Delaney has made headlines in news pages as well as sport, telling the Irish Sun in 2014 that he was like a ‘father figure’ to model NADIA FORDE, who had sung the national anthem before two high profile Irish games in the previous autumn. Over the past few weeks, we have learned that Forde was flown in from LA to dance with Delaney in a charity fundraising event in 2013. The FAI CEO was also living in a house owned by TV presenter GRÁINNE SEOIGE with the association paying the rent. In 2014, the ‘John The Baptist’ production gave viewers an insight into Delaney’s life. “I’m off to meet the Queen tomorrow,” he said, in one scene that lingers in the memory. His mingling opened new doors. Partner EMMA ENGLISH was the organiser of the event where Delaney danced with Forde. The rest, as they say, is history. She soon become a recognisable presence at Irish games, home and away.

Women's game


Ronan took over from Noel King as manager in 2010 and was in charge for six years before moving to a role as the head of women’s football.


Replaced Ronan in 2017 and results have improved under his watch, although he was thrust straight into the crisis around working conditions for the players.


The FAI’s relationship with the PFAI and its main man Stephen McGuinness were already strained due to League of Ireland matters but it completely deteriorated when they represented the Irish girls in their strike threat.

Football Family


A constant problem for Delaney who will never be allowed to forget his description of the senior league as the ‘difficult child’. He has built alliances with clubs by helping with ground projects but cuts in prizemoney and criticisms around affiliation fees and licensing have soured relations.


Delaney says he has made more than 2,000 club visits and a number of clubs from around the country have reached out to support him in his hour of need. The ‘Festival of Football’ idea around the AGM has proved to be very successful in terms of building goodwill.


During the Euro 2012 campaign, Delaney was a darling of the Irish hardcore and even thanked the Aviva Stadium singing section in his annual report. But relations have soured in recent times and that part of the ground is now notable for the security presence and the anti-Delaney chants.

Former FAI Staff


O’Shea worked for the FAI as the director of legal affairs and retained that brief while becoming the deputy CEO in January 2013. She is now the honorary general secretary of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI).


He was hired from Ryanair to become the FAI’s head of communications, a position that has been filled by a number of different people during the Delaney years. Sherrard progressed to become head of operations and is now the CEO of the OCI.


The former Ireland manager worked with the FAI in the area of career guidance and compensation for young players going across the water but he was let go in 2012. Hand claimed wrongful dismissal, but the FAI won a Labour Court appeal.


The former goalkeeper joined the FAI to work with League of Ireland marketing and club promotion and was hired by UEFA, where he is now a head of business development with national associations. He was the guest at the 2017 FAI AGM where he recalled working with Delaney – “A young CEO who managed to make the association fit for purpose.”


The current CEO of Tennis Ireland was the Director of Club Licensing and Facility Development with the FAI when he left Abbotstown in late 2016 after almost 15 years. He had a long association with the Technical Department.

Interim CEO


Joined the FAI from Liberty Insurance in 2014 and was due to be promoted from corporate affairs and licensing director to chief operating officer this month. Instead, the UCC law graduate is Delaney’s temporary replacement as CEO.

Former CEOs


The FAI’s first CEO came into conflict with Delaney over the ill-fated Eircom Park project. Delaney preferred the Bertie Bowl. Prior to becoming CEO, O’Byrne was the FAI’s treasurer – a role he took over from Delaney’s father Joe after the ‘Merriongate’ scandal and Delaney Snr’s deals with a ticket tout named ‘George the Greek’. O’Byrne left the FAI after a storm surrounding his use of the association’s credit card.


Delaney was part of the interview panel that selected Rooney in 2003. They worked together on plans to renovate Lansdowne Road but Rooney’s position came under threat due to complaints about his management style. He had posed questions about the FAI’s ticket operation, while there was a dispute over the implementation of the Genesis Report. An FAI committee probed Rooney’s performance and he eventually left at the end of the 2004, to be replaced by Delaney.

FAI presidents


Delaney and Corcoran didn’t see eye-to-eye on every issue, but they did for the majority. Corcoran was FAI president when Rooney left and Delaney went from being a board colleague to the CEO. When Corcoran’s time as president ended, he returned to the FAI board. He passed away in 2016.


Became FAI president in 2005 and was in situ for some testing times with the troubled Steve Staunton era and the launch of the Vantage Club project coinciding with his stay in office.


The Athlone man replaced Blood as president. During his time in office, Delaney’s salary became a major talking point given that stadium debts were high and FAI staff were forced to suffer cutbacks. “John’s remuneration reflects his unrivalled record of achievement,” said McCaul.


The Corkman’s term is best remembered for the statement he gave backing the CEO after he was caught singing a republican ballad in a Dublin pub. It kicked off by focusing on the cyber-bullying of his girlfriend Emma and declared the matter closed, long before it was closed.

The businessman


Delaney thought it was a joke initially when O’Brien offered to pay half the salary of the senior management team’s salary ahead of Giovanni Trapattoni’s recruitment. The arrangement lasted for 10 years, and O’Brien was named as the FAI’s honorary life president.

Long-term companions


After 10 years with the Ireland senior women’s team and underage side, King was appointed U-21 manager in 2010 and he also had a role in the area of recruiting overseas-born players. He finished as U-21 boss last autumn but retained a role in the scouting department. He had a stint as senior caretaker after Trapattoni’s exit.


The head of the players union, the PFAI, was appointed as the new Director of the League of Ireland in 2006. "Fran is a thorough professional," said Delaney. Gavin's role has subsequently broadened out and he is now listed as the Director of Competitions.


Conroy left his post as the FAI's Director of Strategy in 2007, but he's never been far away from Irish football business. He was brought in to take a central role in the successful bids for the 2011 Europa League final and a role in Euro 2020 co-hosting. And in 2015, he was tasked with producing a report on the League of Ireland.


The former Ireland striker was U-21 boss when Delaney took control, and the pair knew each other going back through the CEO’s father Joe. He had spells as caretaker between managerial appointments and also helped in the FAI’s recruitment process before Trapattoni. Givens left the U-21 post in 2010 but was given a new role leading the UK scouting network. However, he was let go as part of restructuring in January.

FAI Old Guard


Another long serving FAI official who was General Secretary during the Saipan crisis and eventually stepped aside in the aftermath of the Genesis Report. Delaney's profile grew in the background during his time.


The Eircom League chairman resigned in 2004 after concluding that his relationship with Delaney and then CEO Fran Rooney was 'beyond repair.'


The FAI's Honorary Secretary lost a Council vote on his position in 2004 after being challenged by Milo Corcoran. A reason put forward was the quality of his minute taking, but Fahy was not on good terms with Corcoran, Delaney or Fran Rooney at that point.

Irish politicians

Delaney had a few issues to overcome at the beginning of his tenure with Minister John O’Donoghue questioning funding levels due to the FAI’s slow implementation of the Genesis Report.

But he was generally on good terms with the Fianna Fáil government. Enda Kenny described the FIFA €5m payment as extraordinary, while Leo Varadkar found the recent bridging loan to be unusual. His friendship with Labour’s Alan Kelly was strong. But in recent times, the likes of Catherine Murphy and Noel Rock have been a thorn in his side and he will not be looking forward to Wednesday’s gathering.

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