Friday 28 October 2016

promise of a day to remember soured off pitch

Awful game overshadowed by continuing FAI revelations

rep of ireland 0 england 0

THIS could have been a great day. It could have been one to file away with all the highs we've had with Ireland over the years. Big Jack, tears streaming down his face, arms raised and a great beaming grin on his face. Wonderful.

England were in the house and this was a chance to finish what David Kelly started all those years ago.

But it wasn't a great day. It was soured by the ever-increasingly volume of noise around the FAI, its CEO John Delaney and further revelations about how the Aviva Stadium funding was found.

The latest loan to emerge is a €10m sub from UEFA, some of which has been repaid but most of which is still owed. It opens up a whole raft of questions to sit alongside those raised by the now infamous deal with Sepp Blatter.

One dominates all the rest. Taking all the loans into account, how much does the FAI actually owe on the Aviva Stadium?

Fans at both ends of the ground had their say. The England cohort sang "He paid for your ground, he paid for your ground. Sepp Blatter, he paid for your ground".

Down the other end, there were some less than savoury chants about Delaney.

All around us in the press box English colleagues were trying very hard not to laugh outright at a story which has been gathering momentum since Delaney appeared on Ray Darcy to answer questions about FIFA Ireland.

Irish football is now a target for ridicule and if Blatter did Ireland some reputational damage when he laughed at the suggestion that we could be the 33rd nation in in the 2010 World Cup, this is so much worse.

In fact, Blatter had a point. Did the FAI really ask him for that?

Worst of all has been the defence of the decision to accept the money and the dreadful mealy mouthed excuses coming from some of our public commentators.

"It's a neat trick that a handball becomes a hand out," said Mary Hanafin on Newstalk on Friday and the heart sank.

Extraordinary. On Marian Finucane yesterday, some of the contributors thought it was all hilarious.

Jose Mourinho called that act of accepting the €5m "the end of the world" yesterday and if his words were a tad exaggerated, you could understand his point.

Giovanni Trapattoni's comments in the matter were spot on. Trap wouldn't shake Blatter's hand after the game in Paris because he is not "two-faced".

In itself, it was a devastating put down for Blatter and indeed, for the deal that was done.


It's now obvious that the FAI were in such a poor place financially that they needed what Blatter was offering and if Delaney had said as much the day after he got the money, he would have avoided some of the storm now breaking over him.

Quietly and doggedly, some football journalists have been asking questions about the Aviva debt. The official response has always been upbeat and dismissive of suggestions that it would not be paid down by 2020.

Now we need explanations. We need the books to be opened and we need to see a clear picture of the FAI's finances and clear explanation about how the €15m from FIFA and UEFA is accommodated in the accounts.

There was a game yesterday. It was pretty awful and held in a stadium which was anything but sold out.

Imagine that. England and no full house. Martin O'Neill thought the exercise worthwhile and maybe it was for him, with the Scotland game in mind, but it was poor stuff for the thousands who did turn up.

He dodged questions about FIFA and the FAI again and he does seem nonplussed by it all.

He certainly picks them. His hand selected No. 2 can cause a riot by blinking and his employers, the FAI, are not behind the door when it comes to blaring headlines either.

We can only hope that amongst all the madness, O'Neill and Roy Keane saw enough in a very tedious 0-0 draw to show them a way to beat Scotland.

It should have been about that. It should have been about our greatest English friend Jack Charlton and finally mending fences which were, literally, destroyed. But it wasn't and that has to change.

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