Five more years

The FA of Ireland have been castigated in a report sparked by the World Cup fiasco. Brian de Salvo hopes they take it more seriously than the last one

“The FAI is experiencing a confused present and faces an uncertain future.” That’s not a quotation from Genesis, the sports management consultancy ap­pointed to report on the organisation of Ire- land’s governing body after their World Cup campaign, who produced a damning indictment of the FAI. It’s the verdict of a previous report, pre­sented as long ago as 1996, which highlighted “a lack of vision, direction and planning… indecisive structures and… reluctance to consider necessary change.” Little has changed since. Will it now?

The Genesis report was triggered by Roy Keane’s much publicised exit from the Republic’s “acclimatisation camp” in Saipan and commissioned by the FAI to assess the association’s role as an executive body. This was either an act of suicide or one of sup­reme ar­rogance, since anyone connected with Irish football could tell you how inept its administration is.

Like its predecessor, the report identified the re­form of the existing management structure as a key area, recommending the recruitment of five professional executives. It’s not by chance that the current executive numbers five. One of these, the gen­eral sec­retary Brendan Menton, fell on his sword at the press conference called to announce the publication of the latest report, adding ominously: “I have not resigned [from the FAI], I have stepped aside, created a gap.” Honest and honourable, Menton was out of his depth, as he indicated in a courageous but incoherent radio interview the morning after his resignation. With a full board of management of 22 and a national council of 55 to placate, his was mis­sion impossible.

The FAI president Milo Corcoran expressed shock. “We will have to get it right,” he declared as Menton addressed the nation, before flying out to Zurich for an engagement as an official UEFA match observer, at a fee of about £3,000 a day. Vice-president since 1997, Corcoran is due to remain in office until July 2005.

Like the other four members of the executive, Cor­coran has never played at professional level; the best they can offer is vice-president David Blood’s junior international cap. Set to become the next president, his background is the United Churches League. Blood’s colleague Michael Hyland is the septuagenarian chairman of the domestic Eircom League, a competition so beset by scandal last season that the Premier Division title remained disputed after the executive tried to suppress knowledge of regulation irregularities. A survivor of many FAI fiascos since 1990, Hyland’s acknowledgement of the 21st century is to decline to use a mobile phone.

Hope rests with honorary treasurer John De­laney, a young, self-made millionaire with good con­nections and impressive drive. It was he who backed Genesis, insisting: “I would have considered my pos­ition if nothing had been done.” It is an indication of his clout that the report was sanctioned, even though it was bound to lead to the association’s public humiliation.

Delaney’s presence provides a reminder of another resignation, that of his father Joe, also an FAI treasurer, on March 8, 1996. His laudable objective was to mop up as many tickets as possible for Irish supporters at the 1994 World Cup. However, it never seemed to occur to him that it was inappropriate to solicit them from a Greek tout. The Greek vanished with the cash, leaving Delaney to refund a considerable amount of money. The revealing thing is that, having done the decent thing, Joe Delaney never expected his resignation to be accepted and was devastated when it was.

To understand this mentality you have to realise that the Republic of Ireland is a foreign country. The locals may have an inexplicable interest in the British royal family but it’s a different culture, where the historical tradition is to circumvent authority. Not to comply, not to confront but to get around regulation. The Republic’s new-found affluence, ac­quired over a remarkably short period, has com­pounded the effects of this in­stinct. Some institutions, like the FAI, have been left behind, languishing in an era when to cross the Irish Sea meant a return to black and white television.

It’s a small country, whose entire World Cup squad was drawn from overseas. This puts Premiership pros among the blazers of Merrion Square, a culture clash complicated by a time warp. Specifically, it set fanatical Roy Keane against prag­matic Mick McCarthy. Both manager and captain had reservations about the FAI, but McCarthy’s job was to steer a leaky ship with the engine power at his disposal, and the record shows he did an honest job. Although perhaps an undeserving casualty, he may regard himself as well out of a deteriorating situation. As for Keane, his mantra “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” says it all. Genesis found that neither Keane nor McCarthy “appeared to recognise the other’s need” and castigated the FAI’s failure to intervene in a feud that went back as far as 1994.

Keane thought he had got management focused at a meeting with Mc­Carthy in 1999. The subsequent chaos in Saipan proved too much for a man de­scribed by Genesis as “a paradox – on the one hand the ultimate professional and on the other likely to respond and react in the most unpredictable way”. True, though Keane’s “professionalism” is conditional: are we to accept his authenticated as­sault on Alf-Inge Haal­and as proper conduct for a professional?

Indeed, were his actions in Saipan, when his coun­try was poised for world football’s major competition, responsible? Genesis reported that Keane “possibly felt he should not have gone… He had a bad feeling in advance and was carrying a long-term hip injury.” It is the ultimate paradox that if he had withdrawn, the FAI might now be basking in the afterglow of a creditable and profitable World Cup. As it stands, they have no manager, no chief executive and no stadium. And the deal with Sky to show the national team’s matches – excellent business but appalling public relations – en­raged fans who had gone into debt to follow their boys in the far east but now found they would have to sell their sofas merely to see them on TV at home.

But out of chaos, comes the op­por­tunity to progress. “Sort it you morons!” read a message pinned to the front door of the FAI offices when Keane exited Saipan. Whether they can de­pends largely upon John Delaney, but there are already rumblings from Corcoran, back from his UEFA junketing. “We have a great treasurer, John Delaney, who likes things to be done yesterday,” admonishes his president, “but in the real world I don’t think you can do that.” Corcoran goes on to suggest it could take “maybe five years” to make changes. Which, by an ominous coincidence, is the same period of time he spent ignoring the 1996 re­commendations.

From WSC 191 January 2003. What was happening this month