Just 11 months after then Minister for Sport Shane Ross told the FAI it was a matter of “utmost urgency” that they hire a permanent CEO, following a bizarre sequence which saw six people occupy that post in less than two years, Englishman Jonathan Hill has finally got to plant himself into that well-worn chair at FAI HQ.
The new man at the helm of the debt-ridden association has already admitted that the global pandemic has made the local issue of steering Irish football through its crisis even more difficult, so he could do with some early wins.
After a week when the FAI as a body and the national team as a group took a hammering on and off the field, with a looming crisis over more postponements in the League of Ireland due to Covid, they’ll take any win they can.
So news from the USA that Robbie Keane is about to be hired as manager of a struggling LA Galaxy side is some badly needed good news for Hill. Keane’s status as Ireland’s all-time goalscorer and record appearances holder will probably never be touched but Keane’s status in FAI circles has been difficult for some time, since April’s change of management at senior level.
Stephen Kenny made it clear on day one that while he was willing to hire ex-internationals Keith Andrews, Damien Duff and Alan Kelly, he saw no role for Keane, who was still under contract with the FAI.
Keane has been on his salary of an estimated €4,000 a week since April, without having a role or a function at the FAI. The drain on finances was one issue, but the presence of Keane, one of the game’s all-time scoring greats, on gardening leave while the Republic struggled to score, was an unwanted image problem.
Some would have voiced support for Keane’s return to the senior team’s coaching staff, whether Kenny wanted his fellow Tallaght man there or not.
If Keane does move back to LA, it will effectively sever his contract with the FAI and free up some of the budget, as well as Hill’s time as it’s one less matter for the Englishman to deal with.
The next Irish team to travel are Vera Pauw’s women’s senior side, heading next week to Kiev, a city with soaring Covid rates, to play Ukraine in a qualifier.
Covid played havoc with Kenny’s plans for the last three games and the eagerness for English clubs to send players away on international duty, not just with Ireland but across the board will be tested in the weeks ahead.
Underage and amateur football in Ireland has been ripped apart and there is worse to come with the looming Level 5. The League of Ireland has also been badly held up, Shamrock Rovers’ next three games called off while Wexford FC this week became the latest club to confirm a Covid case, with the outcome a postponement.
Hill’s task then is to try and rebuild bridges with Government and rebuild the FAI’s shattered image. With major sponsors like 3 and SSE Airtricity due to sever their ties, Hill will need to move fast.