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Little fires everywhere as FAI attempt to douse the flames

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St Patrick’s Athletic chairman Garrett Kelleher didn’t hold back in his criticism of the FAI. Photo: Pat Murphy / Sportsfile

St Patrick’s Athletic chairman Garrett Kelleher didn’t hold back in his criticism of the FAI. Photo: Pat Murphy / Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

St Patrick’s Athletic chairman Garrett Kelleher didn’t hold back in his criticism of the FAI. Photo: Pat Murphy / Sportsfile

It's a story that touches a lot of bases.

Hidden secrets that emerge with devastating consequences, shady deals, bitter divisions, legal disputes and the facade of the 'perfect family'.

And the plotlines of American novel Little Fires Everywhere, which was a huge book club hit and is now earning rave reviews as a TV drama, could also fit for the FAI board who are doing just that: fighting fires everywhere.

International football, the League of Ireland season, a rebellious schoolboy sector, relations with an incoming Government: all matters to be coped with by an FAI board which probably doesn't have time to binge-watch on box-sets, but here are the key areas where the FAI have been drawn into battle:

LOI Clubs

Not all clubs agreed with St Patrick's Athletic chairman Garrett Kelleher when he was scathing, on a personal level, of Gary Owens and Niall Quinn and what he called their "failed efforts" to restart the LOI, but many felt that he was right to stand up to the current leadership over their well-intentioned, but unsuccessful, efforts to restart the league.

Meetings since his letter was written are said to be have been more productive and a more attractive deal (albeit one yet to be ratified by the FAI board) is now on the table. Though the LOI is still without a restart date.

LOI players and managers

None of the players have kicked a ball in anger in three months and the majority have yet to resume training so this is a very frustrated group of individuals. "It just looks like we're settling for mediocrity," Dundalk's Patrick McEleney said last week. Bohs boss Keith Long used these pages yesterday to call the FAI "toxic".

Players at other clubs are worried for their futures, and should the Government's Covid wage support scheme not continue to the end of the season, a real crisis would unfold.

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The imminent departure of Minister Shane Ross offers a fresh start for the FAI. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

The imminent departure of Minister Shane Ross offers a fresh start for the FAI. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

The imminent departure of Minister Shane Ross offers a fresh start for the FAI. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Quinn addressed the players' body, the PFAI, on Thursday, a more positive meeting than a previous one with them.

Players await an FAI update but they look on with envy at their counterparts in leagues like Poland and Slovakia, where they have already gone through phase one of their restart (football back, behind closed doors) and are heading into phase two (limited crowds admitted to games).

The LOI, meanwhile, has no start date, and while one could arrive next week, with the framework of a shortened season in place, the absence of that date for a return to play will cause angst until a date is fixed.

Referees

A body who are given little attention in all these debates but without these men and women we'd have no matches to play at any level.

The refs' representatives told the FAI in a meeting two weeks ago that their members had real concerns about officiating in a Covid world, how to deal with issues like spitting and coughing, or how to cope with an on-field melee and the refs are awaiting further information from the FAI.

Schoolboys

Owens and Quinn are now discovering just how deep the divisions are in the Irish game, with the DDSL breaking ranks this week and stating their plan to play 11-a-side games at U-12 level (also nine-a-side at U-11 level).

But that open rebellion was only a flavour of the anger and unhappiness that exists at that level towards an FAI which is intent on making the LOI "front and centre" of the organisation and many within the powerful schoolboy lobby will not be happy until Ruud Dokter is gone from his position. Dealing with the schoolboys is, and will be for long into the future, one of the most difficult tasks for the FAI leadership, though the DDSL have now rowed back on their unexpected midweek statement on the 11-a-side game, a small win for the FAI.

FAI Staff

The board addressed staff in a series of conference calls yesterday where a management restructure was flagged, though no job cuts (for now).

It's hoped that changes for lower-level or middle-level staff will be minimal but some senior management have reason to worry for their jobs. Given that some senior staffers were seen as key lieutenants for John Delaney, certain departures will be as welcome inside Abbotstown as in the football community.

FAI senior council

FAI Schools delegate Nixon Morton emerged from obscurity when he wrote to UEFA and FIFA to make a formal complaint about governance matters, while Council members Larry Bass (Cabinteely) and Andrew Doyle (Shelbourne) have also raised serious issues related to the FAI board.

July's AGM was already looking like a minefield before Covid-19 complicated things even more, and there's a real battle to be faced there. Council members due to lose their status under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding in the FAI's bailout deal with the Government may not go quietly.

Robbie Keane

Stephen Kenny is working away on his backroom staff for the senior team but one mess from the previous regime has to be cleared up as Robbie Keane, who was on Mick McCarthy's staff, has no role in Kenny's set-up, yet remains on the FAI payroll.

Upset at how things have turned out post-McCarthy, Keane admitted on 'The Late Late Show' last month that "there's nothing on that at the moment", but told Ryan Tubridy "I'll come on and chat about it in the future". Not a priority for this FAI board but another issue to deal with.

Auditors

It emerged this week that the FAI are taking legal action against their former auditors, Deloitte, over a "breach of contract". That issue is not make or break for the board but another mess they need to clear up.

Government

A slice for the FAI from a new €70m fund to help sporting bodies emerge from the crisis will make a big difference in the short and medium term. And the imminent departure of the current Minister for Sport, Shane Ross, also offers a fresh start for the FAI, who may end up dealing with Marc MacSharry as the new minister responsible, though the Fianna Fáil TD has already put in a tackle on the FAI.

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