Friday 24 January 2020

Departure just start of needed process

Former CEO gone but plenty of others in FAI must also go

John Delaney has left the FAI but others need to depart as well
John Delaney has left the FAI but others need to depart as well

For the FAI, the first official Monday of life AD - After Delaney - started off poorly.

The 'Today Sean O'Rourke' show on RTÉ Radio 1 kicked off with a three-person panel discussion on the events of the weekend that formally ended Delaney's time in Irish football.

One member of the trio identified themselves as an established member of the current FAI power structure.

Kerry's John O'Regan, a football administrator in the Kingdom for over 40 years, was quick to mention his status as a senior FAI council member in the course of a debate with ex-FAI general secretary Brendan Menton and the lawyer for the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland (PFAI), Stuart Gilhooly.

The latter does now have a voice after recent governance changes, but O'Regan is the lifer and spoke with that authority.

And the listeners got to hear the FAI man continue to laud the "fantastic work" of Delaney during his tenure as CEO.

O'Regan is entitled to his opinions, of course, much as they are completely preposterous. Any achievements of the Delaney era have completely been overshadowed by the mess that he has left behind.

The die-hards that argue to the contrary are dangerously out of touch with the reality that will become clear in the coming months.

O'Regan again trotted out the view that the FAI wouldn't have the Aviva Stadium without Delaney, a belief that is symptomatic of the frankly extraordinary cult of personality that built up around the ex-CEO.

Somehow, his supporters believe he was the only man capable of entering into a partnership with Government and the IRFU to fund a stadium solution for the most played sport in the country. This only goes to show how low the bar was set.

The temporary FAI hierarchy are understood to be in advanced talks with leading sponsors at the moment about deals that were actually being held up by concerns about Delaney's status as an FAI employee. Without him, the game will cope.

However, a necessary step along that road will be an overhaul of the image of Irish football administration.

The problem is there are individuals dotted around the country who have retained their seats of power for much longer than Delaney's stay in the top job.

O'Regan used his platform to reference how facilities have improved in the Kerry District League, an insight into the localised mindset that tied in perfectly with the old FAI strategy that had a whiff of divide and conquer.

The dispensation of State funding became wrapped up with local interests rather than a coherent national strategy.

There are 32 schoolboy leagues in the 26 counties, which is far too many. But mergers would threaten titles.

Delaney received his strongest support from grassroots administrators that had served for decades in their roles. He joined the Leinster Football Association (LFA) delegates on a trip to Germany after he had voluntarily stepped aside from FAI duties in April.

They had a powerful bloc on Council. The heads of the four provincial associations and the FAI Junior Council had come together to sign a letter of support for Delaney in March.

New reforms have sought to tackle the issue of term limits and the clock is ticking on regional delegates who have served for more than a decade at FAI level.

Yet that does not mean that they will be threatened in their own constituencies, much as the Governance Review Group has called for committees further down the food chain to meet targets related to gender quotas and the refreshing of key roles?

The aspiration of a minimum 33pc representation on the FAI board got off to a bad start when the eight seats voted on at the AGM went to men.

Granted, there wasn't exactly an abundance of female candidates coming forward, and the true value of such quotas can be debated, but it highlights a live issue and it really wouldn't be ideal if the selection of independent candidates was compromised by the FAI's well-established cliques.

So while the old boys club at the very top of Irish football might have broken up, there's still a variety of equivalents operating up and down the land. They continue to have an influence that will snooker any talk of progress.

Delaney's departure is only the beginning of a necessary culling process.

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