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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Ballad of John Delaney sounding a bit off tune

Row over video is just another distraction for Irish football

John Delaney
John Delaney

SOMEWHERE in England today, Roy Keane is smiling.

All that talk over a frantic two-week period earlier this month about Keane and the circus that envelops him at times being a distraction to the Irish team and to Irish football has now been, well, distracted by a new issue - Keane's employer at the FAI.

John Delaney has replaced Keane as front-page and radio phone-in material. Delaney, like Keane, could well argue for the next few days that the media storm created around his name is not of his making.

And before everyone gets too carried away and wears out the keypad on their phone with a need to Talk To Joe, let's recall what exactly has happened in the last few days.

In the hours after Ireland's friendly win over the USA last week, the Chief Executive of the FAI went to a bar near the stadium, as he's entitled to do, and wound down with a drink and a sing-song, as he's also entitled to do after a hard day's work.

PROBLEM

His choice of song, however, has caused problem No. 1, as Delaney opted to sing - and was caught on camera singing - the Wolfe Tones' ballad Joe McDonnell, a teary-eyed paean to the IRA hunger striker.

You can argue about the merits of the tune - and in fairness to the song's writer Brian Warfield he certainly knows how to pull out a euphemism to describe McDonnell's decision to take up arms and join the IRA as "I shook bold freedom's hand".

But the sight of a high-profile, highly-experienced and highly-paid sports administrator singing a song about a man who was seen - whether we like it or not - as a terrorist by a section of the community who live on this island has not gone down well in large parts of Northern Ireland and in England.

Problem No. 2 arose for Delaney in the aftermath. Solicitors representing the FAI CEO, aware that the video clip of his sing-song was in circulation online and was reaching the print media, insisted that the singer in the video was not in fact Delaney and that any media outlet alleging that he was indeed the one belting out those lines about Patsy O'Hara and the "sad and bitter" year of 1981 would face the consequences.

Delaney has since admitted that it was him in the video and the denial to the media by his legal advisers is now a separate matter.

But the ripple effect carries on and will mainly be felt outside of the 26 counties.

The song in question, just like the Wolfe Tones, has been around for decades, has been sung in public and will be sung again. Seeing as James McClean is a self-confessed Wolfe Tones fan it may even be heard on the team bus or the dressing room for an Ireland game (though McClean seems to prefer the Broad Black Brimmer, another Wolfe Tones tune).

McClean, like any citizen of this state, can play whatever he likes on his iPod, in his house or behind the closed doors of a dressing room.

QUESTION

But whether it's suitable for the boss of a national organisation to be out in public and belting out a rebel song is a separate question, which most people know the answer to.

Delaney can moan about how the footage of his singing was "slyly" filmed and made public but the setting for the balladry was not a private setting but a pub on a busy match night in Dublin.

And Delaney, who has recently volunteered to appear in a specially-commissioned documentary, a photo shoot in the glossy mag of a Sunday newspaper and alongside his partner on a live TV chat-show, can hardly complain about invasion of privacy.

different

And no doubt officials from the IFA, who deal with the FAI and Delaney on a variety of issues, such as the moribund cross-border Setanta Cup, would have a different view. Jim Boyce, one of the most senior administrators from the North, has already come out and had his say (see panel).

A veteran blazer who has influence in UEFA and FIFA, Boyce's words always carry weight across Europe and his dressing down of Delaney should be a concern for the FAI.

Officials from the FA in England will also take a dim view, and it's been noted by more than one cross-channel observer in the last 24 hours that, on the night that Roy Hodgson was admonishing England fans for singing anti-IRA songs at the Scotland-England game at Celtic Park, the main paid official of the FAI was in a pub in Dublin lashing out a tune which glorifies a proud member of the IRA.

The FAI and the FA knew they needed to work hard behind the scenes to play down possible tensions ahead of England's visit to Dublin for a friendly next summer. Now, the FAI have indirectly given succour to any tattooed skinheads who planned to make their voices and views on the IRA heard in Dublin in June.

How can the FA call on their fans to stop singing the relatively innocent "No surrender to the IRA" when the top man in the FAI belts out a song which claims that England "plundered many nations, divided many lands, terrorised my people and ruled with an iron hand"?

Delaney has made a virtue of his habit of appearing alongside the regular Ireland fans, especially at away games. Poznan, Moscow, Tallin, Sopot are just some of the venues that pop into the mind, and pop up in youtube searches, where the FAI CEO is seen mixing freely and singing with regular punters. One clip was filmed in an Irish bar in Moscow before the Euro 2012 qualifier there, where Delaney was clearly aware of the cameras so the "sly filming" charge does not apply. It features Ray Houghton addressing the fans, saying how proud they should be to have a man like Delaney at the head of the FAI and that Delaney "epitomises what the FAI is about as he wants to be around the Irish fans".

Delaney has repeatedly told Irish fans at those gatherings that this is what makes us different, as a nation and as a football team, that on the night before a game the CEO of the Belgian or the Swiss FA would not be down in a local boozer, drinking pints and singing songs with the fans.

And maybe that's the point.

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