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Wednesday 18 September 2019

'They will talk down to us'

Council delegates plan to let their feelings known to FAI board in today's meeting at HQ

FAI President Donal Conway, pictured at the recent launch of the U17 European Championships, will be in attendance at today’s meeting in Abbotstown
FAI President Donal Conway, pictured at the recent launch of the U17 European Championships, will be in attendance at today’s meeting in Abbotstown

The agenda which the 61 members of the FAI Senior Council have received for today's meeting of that body is the same as any other Council gathering.

Well, one word is different. Instead of a report by the FAI's CEO, there will be an address by the Interim CEO. Otherwise it's business as usual.

Except it's anything but. Today will be another bruising day for an association whose staff have been left "rattled" in the words of FAI official Fran Gavin.

Even the fact that today's Council meeting takes place after a visit to FAI HQ from a FIFA delegation shows the seriousness of what's about to happen, today and in the weeks leading up to the FAI AGM in July.

Beset

Today will not be a cosy chat with FIFA, who must surely be wondering if the association they are visiting today could be trusted to co-host the 2030 World Cup finals, as is the FAI's hope.

Taking out the scandals which have beset the FAI over the last two months, recent days have seen a wave of controversies hit the association.

The withdrawal of Ford as sponsor; the decision by the powerful schoolboy leagues in Dublin to revert to a traditional playing season and end the experiment with summer soccer; the last-minute postponement of last weekend's FAI Junior Cup due to a player eligibility protest; the ongoing threat of legal action by Waterford FC over the loss of their Europa League place.

Any one of those four items would, usually, be enough to trouble the FAI. All four added in together is a major problem.

But those topics thrown on the bonfire that is the public image of the FAI right now, given the far more serious issues dogging the FAI, and it's a head-spinning mess.

What will happen today when the doors close on a meeting room at FAI HQ at noon and the FAI board face the 61-strong Council?

One long-time opponent of the FAI regime, speaking ahead of today's meeting, said there could be "mayhem". Some have predicted "blood on the walls" and hope for just that.

"The people at the top table today, the FAI board, are condemned and if they don't know that they need to know it and they will be told today," one delegate said ahead of this meeting.

Others expect delaying tactics from the board. "It will all be a deflection mechanism," commented one delegate.

Processes

"The board will talk down to us. They will do exactly what they did at the Oireachtas meeting: say they can't say anything, that processes are in train and they are precluded for legal reasons from saying anything at all, they'll tell us to trust them and let the governance process complete itself. And we can't swallow that."

A sign of how serious the current board are about change, real change, will be if a proposal to have FAI critic Paul Cooke (the sole nominee for the vacant post of Honorary Treasurer) added to the FAI board today, instead of waiting 11 weeks for the AGM, is adopted.

Others will be glad to hear, at last, the voices of interim CEO Rea Walshe and President Donal Conway, the two most senior FAI officials who, in the past two months, have not spoken a single word in public, apart from FAI press releases and the FAI delegation's appalling performance at the Oireachtas, leaving football men like Mick McCarthy and Stephen Kenny to front up for the FAI while directors stayed silent.

The attendance at the FAI Council today will include officials who signed statements of support for John Delaney and some, such as Leinster FA man Gerry Gorman, still back the ex-CEO. Others will demand clarity on the reported €2million deal for Delaney on top of his salary.

"We want answers today, I just don't know if we'll get them," rued one delegate.

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