Wednesday 11 December 2019

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Cork Independent

INDOpinion

John Delaney has failed the League of Ireland time and time again

Wednesday, 3rd April, 2019 4:15pm

The past two weeks have seen seismic shifts in the politics of Irish soccer, shifts which I hope will lead to a broader set of changes which sees reform of the governance structures, the balance of power, and the day to day running of the FAI.

23 March was one of the strangest and most extraordinary days that Irish football has witnessed since Saipan.

The circumstances surrounding John Delaney’s “resignation” and the following creation of the Executive Vice President role, with Mr Delaney being appointed immediately, was nothing short of a circus; with the new role mirroring the primary executive functions of the CEO role to the point of being almost indistinguishable.

The creation of the new Executive Vice President role speaks to a rushed and panicked process, for reasons which remain unclear.

The manner of recent managerial departures and appointments, notwithstanding the great ability and commitment shown by managers past and present, point to emerging theme of the board of the FAI acting quickly to minimise avoid criticism or public scrutiny.

At the time of writing (Tuesday), I am conscious that tomorrow will see Sporting Ireland come before the Oireachtas Sports Committee, so I will withhold judgement or passing comment on the stories regarding loans, and the subsidy of rent as they may well be outdated at the time of publication, but it goes without saying that both Delaney and the FAI have many questions to answer, and a failure to be forthcoming or a lack of transparency in these upcoming Committee meetings may well have further ramifications.

I hope that answers will come from these forthcoming meetings.

I note that Sport Ireland have this morning said they remain unsatisfied with the explanation proffered by the FAI about the circumstances surrounding the “bridging loan” in 2017. That story is sure to develop further in the coming days.

The FAI is not a monolith.

It is an organisation which contains many hundreds of people who are hard-working, committed, and have dedicated their lives to growing football in Ireland. Right from the bottom to the top.

They are in the FAI, and they are in the grassroots of Irish football, down the Munster Senior League, the AUL, the Cork School Boys league and much much more, and I have regularly seen the fruits of that voluntary, committed effort.

However, at a senior level in recent years, the FAI have shown a serious lack of transparency, and have failed to serve Irish football to the greatest potential.

It can be seen in the fact that FAI staff were facing pay cuts at the same time Mr Delaney was received a very generous accommodation allowance.

The most obvious example of this, is in the SSE Airtricity League of Ireland.

John Delaney has long been criticised by League of Ireland fans for his failure to grow and develop the league, and offer the support required to allow the league reach its full potential.

These sentiments cannot be dismissed as a few rogue fans expressing a minority voice, and it is quite telling that they come from the supporters who for the most part eat, drink and sleep the League of Ireland and their local club, and often very involved with junior football as well.

Football is a game fuelled by passion, and that passion and love of the domestic game is admirable.

However, I doubt there’s a club in the currently which has not been on the brink of extinction at one stage or another, and where it not for the efforts of supporters and local businesses then the League of Ireland would have ceased to exist long ago. Again, this lies firmly at the feet of the organisation with the overarching responsibility for soccer in this state.

Dublin City (2006); Kilkenny City (2008); Kildare County (2009); Sporting Fingal (2011); Monaghan United (2012); Mervue United (2013) and Salthill Devon (2013) are all clubs which have ceased to exist under John Delaney’s tenure.

We need again look no further than the 2018 season to see the difficulties and potential folding of both Limerick FC and Bray Wanderers while playing in the Premier Division, and the lack of intervention by the FAI at either club.

Cork City, Dundalk, Bohemians, St Patricks Athletic, Drogheda, Shelbourne and Athlone have also had some near misses in the last couple of years.

Delaney and the FAI have claimed that the league has significantly improved during his tenure as CEO. I think the above speaks for itself regarding their respective roles.

Their job is to nurture and develop the league but I think they have failed to do it, and the evidence I feel supports this; and is an opinion shared by fans and clubs alike.

There have been some significant improvements in the League of Ireland in recent years, and this year has seen a significant increase in attendances at grounds around the county, with attendances in the Premier Division up by 11 per cent, and attendances in the First Division increasing by a whopping 43 per cent, which is fantastic to see.

The improvements however, primarily have been down to the hard work of clubs, the passion of the fans, and the understated role of those who volunteer in helping to steward and coach within the underage structures.

The flurry of press releases from the heads of the respective (regional) leagues over the last week looked to me like a circling of the wagons, with devotion to the Supreme Leader of Irish football coming from expected sources with skin in the political game.

There’s no doubt that John Delaney has done some good things for Irish football over the years, but if judged solely on his role in assisting and nurturing our domestic league, his tenure has been an abject failure.

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