There was a moment at the FAI’s AGM on Saturday at which you simply had to laugh.
For this lot just aren’t worth the tears anymore. That’s the place they’ve brought us to.
Donál Conway was centre stage, having just been re-elected as president of the association, when he told those in the crowd that they must change the culture and the behaviour. You couldn’t make it up, for Conway is one of the best totems to that very culture and behaviour he said needed to change, while such brazen and ballsy hypocrisy was the embodiment of that culture and behaviour. A man not wanted by the government, a man not wanted by his unionised staff, a man not wanted by those who want to see soccer take a new direction, a man not wanted by those who’ve seen his performance and know he isn’t good enough.
And yet he remains. Unwavering. As were the delegates in their support of him with 134 of the 140 there in favour of him. Whoever said that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, for while there were a few little acorns planted at it, they may not see sun in such a thick forest.
It’s only a handful of months since Conway, flanked by John Delaney, helped to form the most ignorant and insulting of duets you could imagine before an Oireachtas committee. This after the actions of one and complete inaction of the other were public knowledge.
The latter sat smugly, refusing to answer any queries while the former backed him and, rather than take responsibility for his own dire performance in a role of oversight and accountability, he tried to throw new finance director Alex O’Connell under the bus for what they were around for but O’Connell never was. That’s the level of these people and still…
After all the anger, outrage and now talk of change, Conway has survived in a role where he was previously either complicit in what went down or too stupid to work out what was going down. Delaney is a survivor too, with sources saying he’s spending part of his gardening leave in the Florida sun while his bank balance grows. Since being told to take some time off, he’s still been receiving €30,000 a month. That’s practically €7,000 a week. Which is close on a grand a day. It was 15 April when he was forced to walk out the door of his office in Abbotstown, meaning since then he’s already been reimbursed to the tune of €103,561.64. As a contrast, think of the years of hard, honest, diligent and decent graft for you to get that.
It would be bad enough if it were for not lifting a finger, but it’s worse than that. It’s a reward for using the FAI’s bank accounts as his own, for pulling money meant for soccer out of holes in walls to spend on his lifestyle, for getting his girlfriend onto their payroll, for having his rent paid while skipping tax implications, and for using that association as a tour operator for many. And Conway beside him throughout it either allowed it or never so much as noticed.
The public ire has largely subsided and those who caused it are riding out a dying storm.
It’s hard not to get the feeling the generals have survived that pesky coup.
* * *
A thought over the weekend while this joke went down without any semblance of shame. Had the FAI been a business operating in such fashion in the United States, you get the sense that the doors would have long ago been locked up, but only after one group of state officials took some of those inside away and another group emerged with boxes of files.
That’s not the Irish way.
Indeed in a small and far less significant sporting sense, it reminds of the frustration during the banking crisis. For while we had hearings, paid exorbitant amounts of cash to consultancy and accounting firms, and let almost everyone off the hook after a still further waste of time and taxpayer money, in America straight away they were brutal in attacking a terrible form of white-collar crime. It’s our way as we go in circles thus never go anywhere.
Be it the developers emerging from the deep, dark holes they crawled into so they could once more be allowed to cash in on another flimsy boom, be it bankers returning to the top, be it politicians engaging in the same sort of policy that claims unity but divides society, be it restaurateurs failing to pay staff while being stuffed into celebrity sections of the media.
Business as usual.
Key people in the FAI carry the same attitude of ego and entitlement and still think they can do as they want. And in a way they can, with that on us too for in Ireland there’s long been this baffling idea that getting one over the system is to be welcomed. Maybe it comes from the fact that system was historically the British, but by now we’re just shafting ourselves.
It’s a culture many are more than happy to take advantage of.
Think of the mindset of Conway as he put himself ahead of his past, ahead of common knowledge, ahead of so many wishes, and all for serious status and self-gain. When did it become so hard to do the right thing? Why has it become so hard to do the right thing?
What’s perhaps equally as depressing in this always-continuing FAI debacle is while the top dogs have gone nowhere, they’ve actually managed to bring down the status of others. Take one of the good guys in Mick McCarthy. Asked about whether he’d seen Delaney he finished a reply with, “I have answered you and if you want to talk about football, fine, if not…” Only this is what football has become because of such a lack of willingness to call out the bullshit.
That was Friday afternoon. By Friday night the national manager was actually defending Conway too. “He’s been a real stand-up guy for the FAI and for football,” he told a dinner. “I turn up at the training ground and it could be whatever hour and he’s either working inside the office or he’s talking to Cathal Dervan [communications officer] about something. I try to ring him [Dervan] and he’s talking to Donál. I’ve been impressed. Thank you.”
It’s rotten to the core with even the effective FAI General Manager Noel Mooney hard to take seriously despite many speaking highly of him. For his own words echo more than any source’s praise. He too supported Conway, meanwhile, it’s two years since he was a special guest at this AGM and waxed wonderful about his time working under Delaney. “We had a young CEO who managed to make the association fit for purpose,” he said then. “The FAI is one of our most progressive and well-run federations. You can be proud of yourselves, the board and all the members here.” And he’s here to sort out the vast and expanding mess?
Two chances for by the end of Saturday’s proceedings, Conway was acting as the FAI always have. With Noel Fitzroy forced to step down from the running in the vice-president race due to government guidelines that tried to forge a new path, the president was having none of it. “We should all ensure Noel has a considerable and significant role in football going forward,” he said, seemingly referring to a place on the Football Management Committee.
Once bitten. Twice bitten. Thrice bitten. Ever shy?
As much as things change, they remain ever the same.