Sunday 25 August 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'McCarthy is calm in storm but qualifying crucial for FAI'

Players will always be out of loop but crisis has proven how much Euro 2020 matters

Ready for action: Mick McCarthy with current women’s international Megan Campbell and ex-Ireland midfielder Keith Andrews at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Ready for action: Mick McCarthy with current women’s international Megan Campbell and ex-Ireland midfielder Keith Andrews at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

With his experience of weathering storms, Mick McCarthy is the ideal frontman for the FAI in this time of crisis.

During a turbulent spell for his employer, the Ireland manager has struck the right tone in the wake of the controversy surrounding John Delaney.

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He has recognised that staff in Abbotstown are worried and could do with a lift in morale, while also honestly stating that his players are wrapped up in their own world as opposed to fretting over reviews and enquiries and what it all might mean.

Whether it's footballs or tennis balls, they will keep doing what they have to do.

"I've never had one of them talk to me about it," said McCarthy yesterday, breaking into a half grin as he imagined the scenario: 'Here, gaffer, what do you think about that?'

The build-up to the Euro 2020 qualifiers with Denmark and Gibraltar has been overshadowed thus far by the excitement around Champions League final week.

Former FAI chief executive John Delaney. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Former FAI chief executive John Delaney. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

At this elite level, all of the protagonists are in a bubble. As the players go for glory, their clubs are rich operations trying to get even richer.

For the FAI, though, it's apparent that the forthcoming matches are wrapped up in the battle to stay afloat, much as the players that walk across the white line are blissfully unaware.

McCarthy gets the bigger picture.

"The staff are working there every day," he said. "The players aren't FAI employees. They are employees of football clubs. They're not having to hear it, read it, listen to it. They just come in and play football."

It's probably better that they're not saddled with the extra pressure of knowing the deeper significance.

The FAI has always said that tournament qualification was a bonus, rather than a necessity, but we have now been forced to re-evaluate everything we were told about finances.

Indeed, it's understood that the most recent meeting of the Finance Committee featured a debate around the minutes of the previous gathering on that basis.

The implication that senior team results weren't the be-all and end-all was hard to swallow when the auditor's note in the accounts did state that the revenue generated by the team was of vital concern to the finances.

Current FAI interim chief executive Rea Walshe who recently said 30,000 tickets have been distributed for the Gibraltar game. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Current FAI interim chief executive Rea Walshe who recently said 30,000 tickets have been distributed for the Gibraltar game. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rea Walshe told delegates at the recent Council meeting that 30,000 tickets had been distributed for the Dublin leg of this double-header, the visit of Gibraltar on June 10.

There's a notable difference between tickets distributed and tickets sold, which has been a consistent feature of the Aviva Stadium era. Freebies add an asterisk to the bottom line.

"We all know whether you're a national team or a town team, or a village team or a city team, or whatever it is, if you are winning games everybody feels better about themselves," continued McCarthy.

"The economy improves, everything improves when people are winning games. I think that will reflect in people's opinion on all the stuff that has gone on."

It shouldn't be this way, of course.

Irish football's recent history has placed too much stock on the feats of the Boys of Green - with their better days misinterpreted as evidence that the game is in a healthy state.

In a functioning football association, results should be a bonus rather than a necessity; but in a dysfunctional one, where there is no established football industry, and yet the national team boss is paid at a similar rate to the best in Europe (in the case of Giovanni Trapattoni and Martin O'Neill), then the team really do need to deliver.

The FAI were perhaps right to say qualification for Euro 2016 wasn't going to make or break them. They made around €12m from that expedition, but still found themselves in need of a bridging loan within a year - with the women's side fighting for basic rights.

Bonuses to players and management would have eaten into that, while the rest was obviously required for the association's cash flow or debt needs.

Fears

The situation has evidently deteriorated since then, with the cost of six ongoing reviews intensifying fears about the future and UEFA's finance director in town to assess the current situation.

With UEFA set to provide up to €10m to ensure that the show stays on the road, and ease staff fears about their jobs, then it's stating the obvious to declare that another €12m for making the 2020 finals would help.

Indeed, the rewards would be much greater for a tournament partially staged on home soil with the commercial opportunities that would present.

"For me, it seems to be settling down a bit," said McCarthy,

"UEFA and the FAI have got Noel Mooney in, and that's quite clearly the decision - to settle it down for the next six months."

A good result in Copenhagen, and the spin-off benefits, would be of massive benefit to that aspiration.

It's not a cliché to say that the stakes are high. For the FAI, this is simply the reality.

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