Wednesday 11 December 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Mooney tried his best but leaves with six months of FAI chaos summed up in one week'

On the final day of his secondment to the FAI, Noel Mooney says the referral of the KOSI report to gardaí was a 'punch in the stomach' that has cast doubt over the timeline of plans to reform the Association

Noel Mooney will return to his role in UEFA after representing the FAI at today’s Euro 2020 draw in Bucharest. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Noel Mooney will return to his role in UEFA after representing the FAI at today’s Euro 2020 draw in Bucharest. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

When it became clear that the Euro 2020 draw would represent the final act of his secondment to his national association, Noel Mooney joked that he would arrive in Bucharest in an FAI jacket and leave in a UEFA one.

His last week in the gig has been no laughing matter, however, with Mooney admitting yesterday that Sport Ireland's referral of the KOSI report to An Garda Síochána on Wednesday was a "punch in the stomach of the FAI" that left the powerbrokers in Abbotstown asking a simple question. What happens now?

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

Noel Mooney in conversation with John Delaney in 2017 during the FAI’s Women’s Football Convention at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Noel Mooney in conversation with John Delaney in 2017 during the FAI’s Women’s Football Convention at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The Limerick man did not attempt to downplay the significance.

He had expected that the publication of the KOSI report would be the first step out of the gloom, and had intended to watch the next phase of the crisis management strategy kick in from afar.

"We had written out the roadmap and we were all focused on it and then everything changes," Mooney said. "The report is gone now to the gardaí and I cannot stress enough the frustration that causes us because it throws everything we were working towards.

"All of us felt like the wind had been taken out of our sails. We felt that we were on a track. We may not be perfect but we felt we were doing everything as best we could.

"It just muddies the waters. It feels as if the goalposts have been moved again. And that's unhelpful, really unhelpful."

Mooney concedes that the uncertainty around the KOSI report may now force a delay in the appointment of the four independent directors that are required to make the FAI board comply with new governance regulations.

Looming

The AGM, with updated accounts, may well take place next month, but there is no positive spin on the extension of the shadow looming over the organisation. Despite his best efforts, Mooney has been unable to escape it during his stay.

Put simply, this wasn't the goodbye that Mooney had in mind.

He will be back on the UEFA side of the fence from Monday, returning to a gig centred around growing member federations.

Mooney earns somewhere in the region of €230,000 when bonuses are factored into the equation and it's known that he took a pay cut for his trip home, with the FAI paying the ex-League of Ireland goalkeeper an amount that would have fallen in line with a €150,000 annual salary.

There is no doubt that he would have liked to stay on for longer, much as he downplays that now. Members of FAI staff sensed that was his intention when he arrived in the midst of the crisis that had sidelined John Delaney.

"It's the best job in the world," he said, sitting in a hotel lobby fresh from a summit of 55 UEFA member nations that he attended alongside FAI president Donal Conway.

"If you love Irish football, to sit in a chair and have influence and shape how things happen whether it's for a day or 20 years, is a very nice experience.

"Over the last six months we have solved a lot of issues that you can't see in an organisation. I'd like to think that whoever comes in would have a better run - or an easier start."

The FAI solution to the FAI problem was never going to be palatable to Government once the extent of the mess became a nationwide talking point with political capital.

Mooney constantly sought to downplay his past links to Delaney but couldn't escape his gushing back catalogue of quotes no matter how hard he tried to put them down to context.

Even yesterday, he uttered the phrase that the "FAI had done nothing wrong" with regard to Wednesday's developments. He meant that they had fully complied with the KOSI audit, but the phrasing could be construed as a denial of sorts when the public do not detach the current FAI hierarchy from the turmoil.

Minister Shane Ross went to town on Mooney because of his links with the organisation, and scored easy points in doing so while skilfully managing to gloss over his own cringeworthy backslapping of the ex-CEO.

Once Mooney's name was linked with the freeze of state funding, he was on the clock. UEFA pay most of the bills and will continue to do so, but there are symbolic hurdles that the FAI need to scale to emerge from the gloom - and access to public funds is a substantial one.

Former Athletics Ireland and Cycling Ireland chief John Foley will be the short-term solution and he has a healthy relationship with Sport Ireland, even though his own history with the FAI will raise eyebrows.

He was an 'independent' member of the National League Executive Committee that was presided over by Delaney, an ineffective body that was held in low esteem by League of Ireland clubs who sometimes wondered if it even existed.

The board have made the call to bring in Foley and will face questions on that in due course.

Conway's decision to stay on remains a thorny issue, and Mooney was diplomatic on that front.

"I do see a good man," he said, "I see a good person who has accepted culpability for aspects of the past but who is really focused on taking the Association through the next few months and then stepping down when the time is appropriate.

"The public cannot see some of the challenges that we face. For example, bringing the members with you is not an easy task when they are conditioned over many years. You need continuity, but who knows what the next few weeks or months will hold?"

In many respects, the story of Wednesday summed up Mooney's stint. He was in his element at the launch of a refereeing strategy, one of the initiatives he was keen to get through before his exit. There was warm praise for his input from the chair of the National Referee Committee Gerard Perry.

Mooney made the audience smile with a quip about the need to introduce a 'culture of love' for referees. He can be an engaging personality and that warmth was definitely viewed as a positive upon his arrival back to his old base - even if doubts lingered about his suitability.

He was able to press flesh with sponsors and was also conscious of the distance that existed between leading executives and rank-and-file lowly-paid staff.

Delaney would often enter FAI HQ by a side entrance near his office and staff weren't accustomed to seeing him walking the corridors. Mooney's approach was the opposite.

The CEO's office actually has three rooms contained within it, including a bathroom and shower facilities.

Most employees weren't even aware of that because the blinds were closed but Mooney was an advocate of an open windows and open-door approach. He would partake in the weekly five-a-side game.

"Noel started well and was very open to listening to people," says one employee. "He spoke honestly."

The introduction of a staff forum has allowed grievances to be raised, but the important caveat is that Mooney didn't have the answers to questions on what the ongoing crisis meant for the futures of employees vulnerable to cutbacks. Nobody has provided those answers yet.

Mooney was conscious that the FAI's image outside the building had to improve. He was open to dealing with media, realising that silence only bred more suspicion, and he signed onto Twitter to interact with supporters, although the recurring theme was that discourse could only take him so far as awkward questions were inevitably presented.

Under his watch, the hundreds of fans that were mysteriously blocked by the FAI's official social media account were suddenly given access to their output again.

Improve

Mooney also took it upon himself to improve relations with those groups that were persona non grata. The PFAI - who are under the same roof - were shocked when Mooney bounced into their area one day to shoot the breeze. Not all of his attempts to build bridges were successful. There were no winners in the back and forth with Brian Kerr.

Indeed, that sideshow was pointed to by internal critics who would contend that Mooney became too engaged in PR matters when his role wasn't really about that. Even in his last week, he was responding to individual fan queries about tickets and the promotion of the Oscar Traynor Cup.

Those well-intentioned actions might curry favour, but the permanent CEO will be advised to take a lower profile approach to solve problems of greater importance.

The 'new FAI' will have to be more than a one-man show. Mooney was asked to assess Delaney's legacy yesterday and said that the reports would eventually allow everyone to "reflect on the last 15 years".

Whatever happens now, it won't be a quick fix. Mooney tried his best, but he was always fighting a losing battle.

The fear around the FAI is that they all are.

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

Indo Sport

The Left Wing: John Cooney on Ulster's European run and bouncing back from World Cup disappointment

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport