Friday 20 September 2019

Ewan MacKenna: 'Swiss result shouldn't mask what we've learned about John Delaney and the FAI'

FAI President Donal Conway prior to the UEFA EURO2020 Qualifier Group D match between Republic of Ireland and Switzerland at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile
FAI President Donal Conway prior to the UEFA EURO2020 Qualifier Group D match between Republic of Ireland and Switzerland at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile
Ewan MacKenna

Ewan MacKenna

A sum to start.

Given that John Delaney has stayed on as a key employee within the FAI, we can only assume he sat down last night to watch the crucial Swiss qualifier. And, given the association have said that his new role of executive vice-president has seen him take a significant pay-cut, for argument's sake we'll pretend his salary now stands at €200,000.

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Considering what we long suspected and now know, it's not at all unreasonable.

If that number were on the money, it means that with RTÉ's coverage beginning at seven, before going off air at 10.15, he'd have earned about €74.20 across it. It could be less, and of course it could be more too, but from a moral perspective the issue remains.

After being forced to take a break from work on 15 April due to his own decisions that remain highly questionable, based on the above pay-packet, that would mean that so far a whopping €78,356.15 has been funneled into his bank account. That's outrageous for think what you'd have to do to get your hands on that much, or better again think what it could have done to improve the game.

Besides, in Delaney's case that reimbursement is not actually for doing nothing. Instead it's for being so bad as chief executive that he was forced into gardening leave after all of the damage caused. Yet here we are, with the 1-1 draw once more showing up just how badly we needed such reserves going into new and better structures and coaching.

We'd love to be solely analysing the bad performance and very good result, but there can be no separation of these issues anymore. They're so deeply intertwined.

Firstly because the team's quality is partly based on FAI policy. Secondly because a chunk of the FAI's income is based on their results. And most crucially because of the PR angle.

If you want an example merely recall what we knew about Delaney, his salary and his attitude before the Sunday Times blew the doors clean off, and how it was all okay because we were at major championships and he was buying pints. Bought and sold for a fiver while he took care of himself with company credit cards and rent-free housing.

That's a real fear now, as our ire burns too bright for too short a time, and a head-down attitude can see the storm pass as people quickly move onto the next trendy outrage.

Justice is a dish best not served.

Thus even in the shadow of an undeserved but highly welcome equaliser, this is a bump to bring John Delaney's name back up the page. A nudge to keep the focus very much on him. And also on certain others who remain in the corridors of Abbotstown.

* * *

A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

That's this campaign surmised to date, with last night's goal best exemplifying this.

For 85 minutes Glenn Whelan who, for all the unfair slings and arrows he's endured in the past for playing in a thankless role, was finally shown to have lost his legs and be out of his depth. Watching James McClean made you wonder if anyone else had actually engaged in physical activity in 2017, the year he was our nation's sportsperson of the year. Meanwhile the best that could be said about David McGoldrick and Alan Judge was that they were trying their best as if it were a school sports day, and looking on made you think that regardless of age or experience, perhaps Mick McCarthy needs to be brave and go for the likes of Troy Parrott and Michael Obafemi as they can't be any worse.

Yet it was Whelan's shot that thundered off the crossbar and McClean's cross that looped high and Judge's presence making space and McGoldrick's header to score.

How? It's the opposite of zero theorem. The sum of nothing in this case is everything.

More and more however, we struggle to separate results from performances as it suits a more positive and frankly delusional narrative. The truth was Ireland were really poor, overrun time and again and reliant on dire Swiss finishing and Breel Embolo's composure and footing to stay in the game. By our own standards maybe it wasn't so bad but the problem is by any decent standard we were and are that bad. That's a deep rooted issue.

In 2002 when Mick McCarthy's tenure came to a crashing end against the same opposition, Matt Holland was the only lower league player in a talented team. On this occasion the standards have dropped significantly. On the one hand it points to how he is doing the job well. On the other hand it points to a job he's not allowed to do well in.

Therefore this is again a sticking plaster when we need to see the extent of the wound.

As bloody and brutal as that may be.

* * *

A good end to a tough night; one where we remained on top of the group; one that allows for whispers about qualification to grow a tad louder even though it remains unlikely; one where Enda Stevens commented on the noise and quality of the support.

All is well within the Irish football family? That can't be allowed to become the prevailing attitude for this is like a bank after the bail-out seeing the customers queue up due to an offer on a children's saver account while upstairs in the boardroom there's laughing and joking and business as usual over cigars and whiskey.

Indeed what was most heart-warming around this game was the disconnect in the lead-up. Maybe in part that was to do with a Thursday kick-off, sandwiched in between an All Ireland final replay and the Rugby World Cup squad announcement. But speaking to many, it was also to do with a weariness around this FAI.

Long may that continue.

After all Donal Conway is still president and he was there last night. Recently, having been re-elected, he told those at the AGM that they must change the culture and the behaviour when he remains a stunning reminder of that very culture and behaviour. He even ran for the job having not been wanted by the government or unionised staff, and after only this year sitting beside John Delaney in the Oireachtas where he defended the beleaguered CEO. This also after an era in a position of checks and balances where he either allowed Delaney's carry-on or completely missed it.

If these people's brains were the size of their balls, the game here would be thriving.

He's far from alone. The SFAI's John Earley was put back on the board last month and, with new guidelines showing there could only be two returns, the association quickly went about circumventing that. With Noel Fitzroy forced to step down as vice-president, Conway said he should not be lost to them either and suggested a place on the Football Management Committee.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.

As much as things change they remain the same.

If there's a stench of an old boys' club about this, it's because many influential people have allowed it. McCarthy himself recently described Conway as "a real stand-up guy for the FAI and for football". The effective FAI General Manager Noel Mooney supported Conway as well. On it goes to Damien Duff moaning about protests rather than what caused them, to the likes of John Giles being dragged into the mess after remaining silent on such a core issue.

On it goes, and if the body is flabby, then the brain is bleeding.

We get what we deserve though.

In the same month as Delaney was forced to take a paid vacation, Germany's chief Reinhard Grindel quit after reports he'd never declared a gift of a €6,000 watch. Contrast with our efforts and don't let a draw at home remove your focus.

A sum to finish.

If our made-up-but-not-unfair €200,000 estimate of John Delaney's salary is correct, and this article took you 10 minutes to read, since you started he's just made another €3.81.

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