'Delaney walked on water' - Leinster body helped to bail out FAI
John Delaney's FAI tapped into the €1m property windfall of a leading amateur football body to help bail out the association in the past decade, it can be revealed.
Since selling its Dublin city headquarters in 2009 for €1.1m, the Leinster Football Association - the largest and oldest provincial body in the country - has seen its reserves shrink to €113,510.
The majority of the LFA's outlay was accounted for by an initial €635,000 splash on Vantage Club tickets.
Treasurer David Hearst admitted yesterday that he ringfenced €100,000 of its remaining reserves into a secure, long-term account to prevent "prying eyes getting their hands on whatever we have left".
The failed 10-year premium Vantage Club scheme - trumpeted as a "toll-bridge" by Mr Delaney - proved the catalyst for the FAI's current debt pile of €70m.
The LFA has also since forked out on additional hospitality at the Aviva Stadium, from the Jack Charlton Lounge to Club Ireland tickets.
The LFA's 17 leagues were informed at a council meeting a fortnight ago of there being only €13,510 in the association's current account.
Its last major expenditure came late last year when it agreed to a request by Mr Delaney for €100,000.
This was an advance payment for 20 decade-long premium tickets to kick in from 2020.
By this stage, the Vantage Club brand had been banished to be replaced by Club Ireland.
"If anyone wanted to progress in football, you had to play ball with the CEO," Mr Hearst said yesterday.
"I don't know of anyone in the amateur ranks who didn't play ball. It was felt that the CEO could walk on water. People feared putting their head above the parapet.
"All of our deals were conducted above board and with approval of our council, but we've not come out smelling of roses.
"We're all guilty for what has unfolded in the FAI, not just the football affiliates but also Sport Ireland and the auditors Deloitte."
Mr Delaney could always count on the LFA's support - both financially and vocally - in his times of need.
Minutes of meetings seen by the Herald showed the alarm bells regarding the FAI finances were sounding back in 2014, around the same time Mr Delaney's declaration of delivering a debt-free association by 2020.
Just three months after Mr Hearst reported the FAI to be "behind in grant payments", the September 2014 council meeting heard how the monies would instead by paid through match tickets.
"The officers had no option but to accept this proposal as the FAI would not be in a position to pay the money owed," reads an entry into the official record.
In March 2015, Mr Hearst warned members that a more pragmatic approach to expenditure was essential after its assets had "dramatically fallen" from €1.1m in 2010 to €445,000.
When they were launched, Vantage Club tickets, priced at up to €32,000 each, were presented as providing the best views within the rebuilt stadium from 2010.
"The novelty soon wore off," admits Barney Blood, a former LFA president.
"We had some demand for tickets early on but sponsors became less interested in free tickets when the likes of Oman were coming to Dublin."
The LFA's €100,000 contribution this time last year formed part of a €650,000 whip-round Mr Delaney generated to ease another looming cash crisis.
It has emerged that the Schoolboy FAI (SFAI) and Tipperary South District League shelled out €50,000 for a corporate box and premium tickets, while Mr Delaney made a personal payment of €50,000.
This was noted as a related party transaction.