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No good Friday in sight for FAI

Rift leaves the board as 'broken marriage'

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Former player, referee and Republic of Ireland kit manager Charlie O’Leary has been announced as the 21st recipient of the Special Merit Award award, pictured with FAI Deputy Interim CEO Niall Quinn during the 3 FAI International Awards presentation at the FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown

Former player, referee and Republic of Ireland kit manager Charlie O’Leary has been announced as the 21st recipient of the Special Merit Award award, pictured with FAI Deputy Interim CEO Niall Quinn during the 3 FAI International Awards presentation at the FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown

SPORTSFILE

Former player, referee and Republic of Ireland kit manager Charlie O’Leary has been announced as the 21st recipient of the Special Merit Award award, pictured with FAI Deputy Interim CEO Niall Quinn during the 3 FAI International Awards presentation at the FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown

Roy Barrett and Gary Owens, two of the three key figures at the helm of the FAI, spent a chunk of yesterday ensconced in the Dublin 4 offices of Barrett's stockbroking company.

That plush setting will have been a lot more placid that the scene in another part of the city this evening, when the anger which has been stewing among a section of the board of the FAI, and their constituents, for some time but which has only deepened over a fractious last 48 hours will get an airing.

A midweek appeal by Niall Quinn for "unity" and a statement last night by Barrett, independent chairperson of the FAI board, stressing it was "imperative that we all work together as an Association" look like very hollow words today as delegates head for the Red Cow Hotel for a 4.0pm gathering of FAI council members.

Relations between the so-called "elected members" of the FAI board (football people, in shorthand) and the Barrett/Owens/Quinn axis are as low as could be.

One of the names attached to the late-night email on Wednesday from the eight "football directors" was told in a phone call from one of the senior officers yesterday that their statement was "just another whinge and moan", words that were soon fed back to others on the board.

Another one of the eight rebels was told they had "sabotaged" the FAI and while Niall Quinn used a TV appearance on Virgin Media to call for "unity" and an "end to the propaganda", there is now a real divide on the board.

One senior observer labelled the current set-up as a "broken marriage" that is simply beyond repair.

When a marriage breaks up it's often the offspring of the relationship who suffer but in this latest bout of civil war, those looking on with anxiety are partners like the Government, Bank of Ireland, Uefa and Fifa. If Irish football crashes this month, the sound will echo not just on this island but across Europe, with alarm bells already ringing in the HQs of Uefa and Fifa.

During the crisis-ridden year of 2019, an incoming FAI board member joked that the switchboard operator at Uefa's HQ would be instructed by higher-ups to block any incoming calls from a +353 number as a call from Ireland was bound to be bad news.

Now, Uefa are dreading a fresh batch of calls from here.

And those who said all along that simply excising the John Delaney-era board from positions of power in the FAI would not make things better will smugly repeat that there is no magic bullet.

Failure to adopt a reform package at an FAI egm later this month would see the FAI's deal with the Government fall asunder.

The Government deal is the only deal in town, but it's how the deal was finalised which has angered so many footsoldiers, on the board and among the 79-strong council.

From one point of view, this latest row is a predictable and, some would say, petulant show of strength by some board members who know that, once the number of independent directors is upped from four to six, two current directors will lose their seats. Putting a 10-year limit on service at council level would also see a swathe of people lose their roles. Is it really worth risking the future of the game here for the sake of two seats on the board?

From within the board, or at least the eight who put their names to a late-night emailed statement on Wednesday, it's not about two people losing seats at the board. They are unhappy with the governance at the heart of the Association.

In a position backed by Fianna Fáil TD Marc McSharry, those board members have contradicted outright Owens' claim on Wednesday that the board signed off on the Memorandum of Understanding before it was agreed.

A statement last night by Barrett did not address the issue, and a revelation in his statement that he received the terms of the MOU "late on the evening of January 29th" but only passed this on to his fellow board members the following morning has also sparked alarm, with directors now asking why they were not given the details on the 29th?

At today's meeting of council members, delegates may ask Barrett and Owens for a specific timeline of that evening of January 28th. One director said he had little issue with the MOU per se, but did query the manner of its conclusion, and the gulf between Owens' version of events and the stance of eight other directors, is the core issue.

For an association €55m in debt battling through a global pandemic, these may seem like small potatoes.But some on the board fear that mistakes of the recent past are about to be repeated. Today will be anything but a good Friday for the FAI.