Saturday 24 February 2018

John Delaney wants to see stronger League after 'damaging' Bray saga

FAI Chief Executive John Delaney speaks during the Football For All Strategic Plan Launch at the Marker Hotel in Dublin. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
FAI Chief Executive John Delaney speaks during the Football For All Strategic Plan Launch at the Marker Hotel in Dublin. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Tbilisi is around the corner and the possibility of Ireland qualifying for a World Cup is a live one.

But it has been a challenging summer at home for John Delaney and the FAI with the crisis at Bray Wanderers and rows over the formation of the U-15 national league proving that the happiness levels in Irish football will not just be dictated by senior team results.

All the dots should join up, of course, and the profile of Martin O'Neill's squad highlights the importance of a functioning League of Ireland for producing players.

Dysfunction has been the story of recent months, though, with chaotic events at Bray raising questions about the state of a league if a club pushing for Europe can come out and say they only have enough cash left to pay another week's wages.

Delaney addressed the matter yesterday and attempted to draw a line under the furore, while conceding that it was an unwelcome episode. "Was it damaging for the league? Of course it was. It wasn't something you'd want to read on a Monday morning," said the FAI CEO. "There was a lot of drama around it and I accept there were a lot of negatives but it's resolved. And our job is to work with the clubs, get over those pitfalls and try to take it to the next step. Because it's in everybody's interests that the League of Ireland is a strong league."

Discussions

Making that happen is another thing and the FAI are still searching for the right formula. Discussions with clubs are ongoing and Delaney says next month will be vital for plotting the way forward.

The drawing up of a new Participation Agreement is a likely scenario with clubs seeking greater transparency around the value of sponsorship deals in the drive for increased prize-money and funding.

Delaney argues that it's not just about the FAI stumping up and did hint that improving TV revenues should be a key aim.

"You want government, you want UEFA, you want sponsors, television companies, ourselves and the clubs to take the league to the next step," he said, acknowledging that clarity on 2018 structures is needed before this campaign ends in contrast with the confusion that existed last winter ahead of the decision to cut the Premier Division from 12 teams to 10.

"I think that collectively as a group of partners, we can bring the league to the next step. You need infrastructures at grounds, the academy structure, the underage development pathway and the clubs then getting stronger in the community. They are the pillars."

Government and council support has led to ground improvements in Tallaght, proposed renovations at Dalymount Park and other initiatives around the country. In the case of Bray, they have taken on Wicklow County Council with a view to getting the Carlisle Grounds rezoned for development.

Despite the Seagulls unusual North Korean-flavoured PR strategy, Delaney can understand the broader line of thinking.

"The concept of selling a ground to improve your stadium and bring an academy, like in Drogheda which we're working on at the moment. That's one I would be supportive of, of course," he continued

"If in Bray's case, and I don't know the specifics yet of what site they'd be looking at, I would see a role for the FAI, of course, to be a part of any solution there.

"And I would expect the local schoolboy leagues and junior leagues to be a part of that as well but we're talking about something that hasn't been presented yet."

The new U-15 national league is under way, though, after a build-up overshadowed by furious schoolboys clubs protesting at St Kevin's being admitted without a partnership with a League of Ireland side.

"The U-15 league is going to be here when you and I are long gone," replied Delaney.

"I'm not going to comment on any individual club. I think it's going to be one of the most positive developments in Irish football after the U-19s and U-17s and I can't wait for the U-13s to start in two years' time. It's time to focus on what it will do for the benefit of Irish football."

Irish Independent

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