Thursday 19 September 2019

Stephen Hunt: 'It may not be a popular view, but I'd like to see John Delaney and the FAI come out fighting'

'John Delaney's back was to the wall last week and he retreated to his corner. It was sad to watch.'
'John Delaney's back was to the wall last week and he retreated to his corner. It was sad to watch.'

Stephen Hunt

Last December, Tyson Fury was floored in the final round of his heavyweight bout with Deontay Wilder. It looked all over. But somehow, Fury beat the count and not only managed to get back on his feet, but threw a few punches before the bell as well.

The fight was called as a split draw, which drew derision from all quarters. Wilder had been the clear winner. But in his hour of need, Fury had found something within himself to muster up one last salvo, one last hurrah in the ring. You had to admire the courage and the strength of character he showed in that moment. When Fury's back was to the wall, at least he threw a few punches.

John Delaney's back was to the wall last week and he retreated to his corner. It was sad to watch.

He is on the floor now, just like Conor McGregor was against his Russian nemesis Khabib Nurmagomedov - and that didn't end too well for the Dubliner. A rematch looks a likely outcome, if not for Delaney, for the FAI. There were too many unanswered questions, too many holes last week.

I'm on the record as stating that I think Irish football is in a good place. Since I retired I have been at a lot of games on both sides of the Irish Sea and a lot of what I see is encouraging. A few weeks ago I said that the current crop of young players representing Ireland on the various underage groups is as good as we have ever seen. They are proof that we have made significant progress over the last few years. And whether you like John Delaney or not, you cannot deny that this is the case and that this has happened on his watch.

I can back that up with stats and with how many games I see every week. It's like doing exams on players; I study them and I enjoy doing it and I'll tell you this: we are producing some excellent young players.

So yes, I have defended the FAI on the footballing side of things - and I stand 100 per cent by that view. But I'm not blind either. I don't have the blinkers on. And what I saw last Wednesday was hugely disappointing.

As a former international player, it was embarrassing to see those charged with running football in this country behave as they did. I'm not alone in that view either among my circle of friends and former team-mates.

The FAI team that lined out against the TDs and senators were for the most part camped on the edge of their box, defending furiously in the face of an onslaught. And all the while, Delaney was like the striker at the other end of the pitch oblivious to his team-mates' hardships, just waiting for them to give him a tap-in!

I'm a team player. Always have been and always will be. I have always recognised the value of leadership on and off the pitch. But what happened on Wednesday could not have been good for team morale. I couldn't believe Delaney sat there in the room all day and took the stance he did, to say nothing. The FAI are in a relegation dogfight and it is looking increasingly impossible for them to get out of it.

The FAI is now looking for, at least, a new chief executive. Before long, they may even be looking for more than that. In my view, the new CEO should be aged between 35 and 45 with experience of the game. I would not be against the idea of looking abroad to bring in someone who could fit the bill, so long as we can be sure they can quickly develop an understanding of football here.

If we did go abroad for a CEO - and I'm just putting it forward as a suggestion, because there are suitable candidates here too - we could put someone in to back him or her up who understands football here and also the football world in England and who would be the heir apparent. Maybe we could mirror our international management set-up, with Mick McCarthy and Stephen Kenny, in the boardroom.

Before all that can happen questions have to be answered on the business side of things in the FAI. What was the story with the loan? Why was it needed? And how big a problem is cash flow in the organisation? For sure, small businesses can occasionally feel the pain at different times of the year but for the size of the FAI, what has been happening is not acceptable. It shouldn't take Grant Thornton or Mazars to tell us that.

It may not be a popular view, but I'd like to see John Delaney and the FAI come out fighting. I'd like to see him protecting his team and showing leadership. And we'd all like some answers.

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