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Long to-do list for Hill

New FAI CEO must hit the ground running with no time to dilly-dally

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Jonathan Hill

Jonathan Hill

Jonathan Hill

There is something fitting about the first week in work for new FAI CEO Jonathan Hill coinciding with the Government announcement of €13m in badly needed Covid relief for the Abbotstown body.

The FAI had looked for more to deal with the impact of the pandemic, a more palatable reason for a bailout than the mistakes of the old regime.

It helps that Hill, a former English FA commercial director, does not come with any baggage. Yet the FAI remains saddled with the burden of past errors, and the complications created by coronavirus have merely added to a lengthy to-do list on the desk of the Englishman.

Hill has naturally been engaged in research on his new brief, and the FAI board will meet today, so he should be on top of his short-term issues.

1) SPONSORSHIP

The new man got the nod because of his money-making acumen and the FAI are currently without a title sponsor with the arrangement with Three Mobile at an end, so this is an area where he can make an initial impact.

It's expected that he will arrive with firm ideas in mind and contacts that can open doors. There is a view within the hierarchy of the FAI that they could be generating more money from this avenue proportionate to what other sports collect. However, the FAI have brand damage issues to address, and Hill may also have to grapple around whether betting partners are an option.

2) LEAGUE OF IRELAND

A perennial problem that needs fixing, but there's a pressing concern around the 2021 renewal - and not just because there is also a need for fresh title sponsorship here with SSE Airtricity finishing up.

Clubs have been receiving guidance around budgets which tells them to assume there will be no spectators next season and that compensation levels will be similar to what was available to complete the campaign that is drawing to a close.

However, that €3.3m package - which consisted of cash support as well as concessions on other bills - was only able to facilitate a heavily truncated schedule and it's a no-brainer to suggest that greater financial backing will be necessary to support a proper season.

It's striking that political representatives now seem energised by this topic, a legacy of some bruising days in the Oireachtas Committee for Shane Ross and Brendan Griffin, with the various parties now going out of their way to deliver statements stressing the League of Ireland's importance.

Hill and his staff must capitalise on this; he won't want to start off with a calamitous off-season stacked with uncertainty.

3) UNDERAGE TENSIONS

Over the weekend, there was criticism of the FAI around a document that was circulated outlining the rationale for starting the national underage leagues at U-13 level.

The FAI did not say that kids should avoid other sports, but they did warn against involvement in other codes at 'elite' level.

There are contrasting reasons for anger in response, ranging from warnings about the risks of early specialisation in one sport in addition to objections to classifying as 12-year-olds as 'elite' because it builds them up for a fall. Different viewpoints on the U-13 leagues exist, with Stephen Bradley part of a contingent who feel they could go even younger with a number of coaches feeling our kids don't get enough hours on the pitch.

However, Ruud Dokter has angered traditional schoolboy clubs with his decisions and Hill will quickly have to adjust to the Irish sporting culture which has a different personality to countries where football is number one and the rest nowhere.

He may be there for commercial reasons, but he is active in football himself and his diplomacy will be tested.

4) STAFF ISSUES

Interim CEO Gary Owens has come under fire for overseeing a restructuring process that effectively saw large swathes of the Abbotstown workforce apply for their own jobs again.

At one level, this included the appointment of a Senior Leadership team and the eyebrow-raising show of support for Rea Walshe, a player in the Delaney-era dramas.

But the real source of dissent is the organisation of grassroots jobs with employees facing demotion after missing out on roles.

There has also been communication that suggests that FAI employees who supplemented their income by working with clubs and/or international teams might not be able to do so going forward.

Hill may find that a straightforward welcoming address to the rank and file might be met with a high volume of complaints.

Tough gig.


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