Monday 11 November 2019

Daniel McDonnell: ''Why can't we all get along?' - Irish football's search for domestic bliss goes on'

FAI General Manager Noel Mooney and Author of The Cross Roads, Neal Horgan
FAI General Manager Noel Mooney and Author of The Cross Roads, Neal Horgan
FAI general manager Noel Mooney. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Interesting times in Irish football. Surreal and interesting times, truth be told. This is a week which is firmly illustrating that point. An event in Abbotstown summed it up.

With a meeting about the possibility of establishing an all-island league to be held today, former Cork City defender Neal Horgan was yesterday invited to FAI HQ for the launch of his new book.

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"The Cross Roads" is the third in Horgan's series that has interspersed tales from his own career and the trials and tribulations of the League of Ireland with commentary on the chaotic state of the game.

His latest tome makes a reference to "crisis at the FAI" on the cover.

Horgan's old team-mate Noel Mooney is nearing the end of his secondment to the FAI from UEFA and he was happy to host the event and appear on stage.

We ended up with a situation where Horgan made an initial presentation in the FAI's conference room hammering the authorities for their attitude to the League of Ireland.

Mooney was happy to agree with the majority of those criticisms.

Indeed, he went further by indicating that the FAI had to move beyond a culture of "suppressing criticism", referencing how unflattering coverage had brought about change.

John Caulfield, the Cork City legend and the club's manager from 2014 until earlier this year, arrived in time for a Q&A session which was thrown open to the floor.

He would praise Mooney later in the chat, but he initially tore into John Delaney's stop-gap replacement for the ongoing process that is looking at a variety of options to reshape the game in this country.

It goes beyond the all-island league plans which will be discussed in Dundalk. The FAI are looking at a joint partnership with the clubs or a better version of the current model with a new format.

Caulfield asked why it was just club representatives being invited to these talks, when most of the clubs in the country are on their knees. He offered the view that figures within the game that are currently outside the tent - Brian Kerr and Roddy Collins were mentioned and Horgan threw Caulfield's name into the mix - should be part of a consultative committee.

The mention of Kerr brought discussion down a road which offered another chapter to the saga of the email exchange between the Dubliner and Mooney.

"Why can't we all get along?" said Horgan, with a smile, trying to inject some levity to proceedings after this slight tangent.

It's an aspiration at this stage. The place of the league within the future of the game here is a thorny subject in itself.

Mooney said he had been at a meeting of the schoolboys association (SFAI), the largest affiliate, who would be critical of policy decisions that have given extra responsibility to the League of Ireland.

Tomorrow's meeting of the FAI Council will be followed by the announcement of four new independent directors who will join a board that is tasked with leading the FAI out of the darkness and into light, albeit with significant financial clouds hanging over them.

Former City goalkeeper Mooney feels the League of Ireland should be prioritised going forward but he departs at the end of next month and admitted that different views might exist on that.

There are various actors pulling in alternative directions. Indeed, to say Irish football is at a crossroads could be an understatement. Dublin drivers will be familiar with the Walkinstown roundabout, a traffic nightmare with six different exits that cause confusion - it's closer to that.

Tech entrepreneur Kieran Lucid is trying to steer parties down the cross-border plan. Mooney feels it is too ambitious to get that started by 2021.

"The concept is great - but premature? Possibly," said Mooney. For his part Horgan says it's the way to go, but he has concerns about the time aspect too.

The suspicion lingers that convincing the Northern Irish brethren remains a job, with the verdict mixed.

Cliftonville chairman Gerard Lawlor went on social media to question 'PR spin' and propose a headscratching solution whereby a couple of southern clubs joined their league.

Few saw that idea coming, but these are the times we live in. Expect more twists and turns in the coming weeks.

Irish Independent

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