Monday 16 September 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'The problem for Conway and Earley is that not knowing doesn't qualify as a convincing defence'

John Delaney with FAI president Donal Conway. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
John Delaney with FAI president Donal Conway. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

A couple of months back, in the early throes of the FAI’s year of crisis, the idea of a rebrand was floated in official circles.

Niall Quinn was a supporter of the concept, with the example of the troubled Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) ditching its old name and logo and becoming the Olympic Federation of Ireland cited as a reference point. It all seemed a bit premature when there was so much to wade through at that juncture.

But as the months go by, and FAI board minutes leaked to the 'Sunday Times' continue to shine a light on the past decade, then it suddenly doesn’t seem that far-fetched a plan.

This goes beyond the impact on prospective sponsors, which was one of the arguments for pressing the reset button. The FAI will argue that they've made progress on that front, with a €500k-per-annum deal with Nissan set to be announced. But those developments are doing little to change the broader perception.

What does the FAI stand for now? What are the words that spring to mind when the public hear those letters? Will it always be a punchline?

Any talk of governance reform is snookered by the simple reality that the FAI will be unable to move forward until there is a general acceptance that they have fully embraced and disclosed the mistakes of the recent past.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of those that are involved in the recovery effort.

President Donal Conway has won praise from areas of the football community. John Earley is the other member of the interim board that has previous experience of the top table – although Conway has been at that level for a decade longer.

Conway has said on the record that he is confident that he will not be implicated by the outcome of ongoing reviews into the affairs of the Association.

Earley said on these pages that he "wasn't aware" of the details of John Delaney’s contract and the so-called 'golden handcuffs' clause which has proved a major complication in talks about the ex-CEO’s future. Delaney remains on the Abbotstown payroll, having voluntarily stepped aside.

Every new nugget of info raises fresh questions about the overall operations of the board.

And the problem for Conway and Earley is that not knowing about things doesn't really qualify as a convincing defence in the eyes of the court of public opinion.

Ignorance is no excuse. The subject of FAI finances and governance was consistently covered in the media – but was dismissed and decried as the work of biased individuals wielding an agenda.

Speeches from that genre were always a big hit at the FAI AGM and other gatherings of that nature. Those who stood for the ovations are now being portrayed as progressive forces that are ready to stand up and lead the game forward.

It’s becoming a tougher sell as the anecdotes pile up.

The governance review report recommended up to two board members stay around for the sake of continuity. But any link with the past is problematic now, whether that’s fair or not.

We are now in a situation where the Irish public are almost becoming desensitised to stories about money going out of the Association during the period where rank and file employees were suffering pay cuts and League of Ireland prize-money was – for most clubs – merely cancelling out the cost of their entry fee.

The why and the what and the where of the figures almost doesn't matter in the context of the road ahead – although it's important for the sake of the history books.

But the broader point is what it says about the rehabilitation attempts.

Weekend revelations have enraged some people that the FAI need on board.

It’s understood that the next working group meeting on the direction of the League of Ireland is scheduled for September 10, the day of Ireland’s friendly meeting with Bulgaria.

But the chairmen of Dundalk (Mike Treacy) and Cork City (Declan Carey) both went on social media over the weekend to endorse the idea of a breakaway all-island league.

Daniel Lambert from Bohemians said that it was time for clubs to stand together and say enough is enough.

They have been slow to do that, save for a handful of honourable exceptions.

Indeed, the absence of friction and dissent was a striking feature of the Delaney years; flagged as a sign of contentment when in reality it was indicative of weakness borne out of fear and self-interest.

That is why it is increasingly difficult to believe that the established football family is capable of negotiating its way out of this mess.

Four independent members will be appointed onto the FAI board in the coming weeks, belated arrivals introduced as part of a gradual plan to change the face of the decision-making structure.

That doesn't go far enough. It's not evolution that the FAI needs; it's revolution.

Online Editors

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