Paul Hyland: Same as it ever was at FAI AGM
WHEN you've been to more than one FAI AGM, it takes a matter of minutes for the brain to enter a mildly comatose state. Nothing much ever happens.
On Saturday in the Clarion Hotel in Sligo, the formula was repeated. Glad-handing, group-praise and group-think were the guiding principles and difficult issues were given an ephemeral airing at the top table.
We did learn a few interesting details of the ongoing battle to grapple with the debt overhang created by the Aviva Stadium, the most significant being a broad hint that the FAI wants to exit the current financing arrangement with Corporate Capital Trust as quickly as possible.
The return to "mainstream banking' as CEO John Delaney described it, is an important goal for the FAI and suggests that the interest rate they are paying in their debt is less than acceptable.
We also learned that the 2020 deadline for the FAI to be debt-free, a position underlined on numerous occasions by Delaney in the past, no longer seems to be a core target. Certainly, there was no mention of a time-line from either the man himself or finance man Eamon Breen.
We found out that Delaney is still adamant that the €5m he got from FIFA was a good deal and he would have taken more if he could have got it.
By now the rights and wrongs of that matter have been debated to death and as one veteran observer of FAI politics said yesterday; "Ask yourself where the FAI would be if they hadn't got that money from Sepp."
Unfortunately, we couldn't ask anyone that question at the AGM because there was nobody to ask. For the third year on a row there was no press conference, no opportunity to search for clarity.
It is entirely the FAI's business if they choose to proceed this way but the issues raised in recent months about the governance of football worldwide surely require National associations to step up to the plate and take a lead by opening their doors to scrutiny.
For some time now, the primary source for information about the FAI has been celebrity chat shows. There is a hugely dysfunctional relationship between the football and sports writing media and one of the biggest sporting organisations in the country.
For many delegates, such matters are not important or at least, they gave no indication that they have any problem whatsoever with the way the FAI looks after its affairs. There were no complaints from the floor.
Completely the opposite, in fact. Delaney got a standing ovation from more than half the room and every presentation or report was enthusiastically received.
Two power point slide shows were particularly important. Declan Conroy gave a progress report on his League of Ireland review and promised a report in late August. He appears to have done an amount of work and it will be interesting to see his conclusions.
Even more important was Ruud Doktor's words. The Dutchman is meeting some stiff resistance to his plans for a change in the way Irish kids are taught the game, but his message that football is there to be enjoyed first struck a chord.
However, ongoing issues with the new Under 17 national league and the emphasis on teams from the League of Ireland mean that the top tier of his development plan is struggling.
It is almost beyond belief that not one of the major schoolboy clubs were given a place in the new competition. Most of them applied but were rebuffed.
Many cash-strapped League of Ireland clubs barely have enough to keep a senior team on the pitch never mind running an Under 17 team.