Saturday 7 December 2019

Paul Cooke lands top executive job at FAI after John Foley turns down interim CEO position

Process: FAI vice president Paul Cooke, left, and FAI president Donal Conway during FAI council meeting. PHOTO: SPORTSFILE
Process: FAI vice president Paul Cooke, left, and FAI president Donal Conway during FAI council meeting. PHOTO: SPORTSFILE

John Fallon

Paul Cooke has got to work immediately in his new role of executive lead at the embattled Football Association of Ireland.

The chartered accountant had already immersed himself in the organisation on a voluntary basis during the unprecedented upheaval facing the association since being first brought on board in May.

At that initial stage, Cooke was invited by President Donal Conway to join a sub-committee overseeing the various investigations into governance and financial issues.

He then applied for the vacant role of treasurer, creating the departure of Eddie Murray and when that role was abolished by the governance review group, the Waterfordian applied to become Vice-President.

With the incumbent Noel Fitzroy withdrawing on the morning of the AGM in July, Cooke beat off competition from Gerry McEnaney to be elected.

That position is ceremonial, renowned as being one of privilege, typically involving cutting ribbons at pitch openings and representing the FAI in the posh seats at major football matches such as the Champions League and World Cup finals.

Cooke, a former managing director of the Irish Star and Sunday Business Post newspapers, is more accustomed to addressing business and financial matters. He was the person Conway turned to for answers at press conferences held after the AGM in July and council meeting in October.

Uppermost on his to-do list was applying some semblance of order to the FAI accounts, however difficult a task it was.

Not alone were the 2018 financial statements in a state of disarray but the 2017 version, as lodged last year to the Companies Office, had to be restated.

This followed a complaint in April of this year by the FAI’s auditors, Deloitte, for failing to keep proper records.

Following months of extensive work, the accounts were finally signed off at a board meeting on Monday night.

Cooke has warned that the data, due to be furnished to members and the press on Thursday, will cause "shock".

Debt has been a fact of life at the FAI since Delaney’s overpriced premium ticket scheme, intended to fund their €74m portion of Lansdowne Road redevelopment costs in 2010, flopped. A decade of austerity in Irish football has ensued.

Delaney had publicised a mortgage figure under €30m in the final months of his long tenure but overall liabilities are understood to have doubled, arising from the analysis following his exit.

UEFA have provided an emergency overdraft of €15m to meet fixed costs such as staff salaries, while Mike Ashley of Sports Direct is being repaid an advance on a monthly basis after a proposed €6.5m kit deal perished.

Cooke is in the thick of trying to resolve the mess and was tipped to take the CEO job until John Foley emerged into the equation.

His government connections were seen as key to repairing relations with the state amid grants being suspended by Sports Minister Ross, who felt Foley was tainted by his previous links to Delaney.

Foley was nominated by Delaney as one of two independent directors on the inaugural League of Ireland executive committee.

With Foley stepping away, Monday night’s summit of eight directors, including Cooke, agreed upon a new role of executive lead.

Cooke commenced his duties Tuesday, reporting to Conway, and staff were invited to an opening meeting with the supremo this afternoon.

They will be looking for assurances on job security, as the rising costs of reports and accountancy services increase the risk of redundancies.

SIPTU, which represents most of the association’s 52 development officers, last night claimed that morale was at an all-time low.

Cooke should be working with a new independent chairman but that process has also been delayed.

Under the governance review group recommendations, four independent directors were to complete a 12-person board.

However, that has yet to occur, primarily due to caution on their behalf at joining an association mired in controversy.

A series of reports into the affairs of the FAI remain outstanding.

The first of those probes by Sport Ireland, which was carried out by Newry-based auditing firm KOSI, was last week referred to gardai.

As the temperatures dip, the chill of past misdemeanors threatens to make it a long winter at the FAI.

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