For the last ten years John Delaney has taken the reins as the Chief Executive of the Football Association of Ireland. It’s been a tenure in which the national side has at times prospered and punched above its weight.
For an island with a population of just over 4.5 million people, albeit with the ‘granny’ rule coming into play, Ireland have certainly delivered more than expected when compared to other European nations of our size.
However, this article looks at whether the domestic game has improved or regressed since John Delaney took over as interim Chief Executive in late 2004, before making the post permanent in 2005.
Delaney took up the position when the domestic league was very much transitioning from amateur/part-time football into a more professional era. Results in Europe were improving, summer soccer looked to be the biggest masterstroke in Irish footballing history and the country was experiencing a financial boom it had never seen before.
Ireland’s UEFA coefficient has also risen considerably since the FAI took control of the prospering league in 2006. In fact the LOI was ranked at a height of 29th in the 2009/10 season; moving up ten places from the 2002/03 season.
Whether it was the FAI – under the stewardship of Delaney – or individual clubs who helped progress the league in this manner is debatable, however one would think it was the continued investment at the time from individual club owners, particularly around 2003 – 2005, who ploughed money into clubs. This would later turn out to be detrimental to some LOI clubs’ futures however.
Four consecutive years of clubs going very close to the edge began in 2007 when Shelbourne were demoted to the First Division, Drogheda entered examinership in 2008, Derry were demoted to the First Division in 2009, whilst Cork City were forced to reform as Cork City FORAS Co-Op for the 2010 season as well as being demoted to First Division football.
It is easy to point the finger at the league’s governing body for this period of mismanagement, however the clubs themselves were without doubt at fault to some degree for investing unwisely, which incurred subsequent sanctions.
The one incident that stands out to this writer however, under the tenure of the FAI’s Chief Executive, is the withdrawal of Monaghan United midway through the 2012 season.
Some of the headlines surrounding financial difficulties in the past had been embarrassing but this negative portrayal of the league’s financial struggles only compounded the casual LOI fan’s perception of the league.
It was a league on the way out, a league with no hope of progression. This was only one season after Shamrock Rovers had reached European nirvana by becoming Ireland’s first club to compete in the group stages of European competition.
Monaghan were never going to be the biggest and most supported team in the country but the whole affair smeared the league’s reputation in a different, even more negative manner.
Quoted on thescore.ie at the time, Monaghan’s chairman Jim McGlone’s comments provided a worrying taste of what Irish domestic football was like for the perceived smaller clubs in the division.
“The reason we have taken this decision is mainly but not only financial. To keep a team playing at the highest level in this country is expensive and with the club’s inability to tie down a anchor sponsor, coupled with the rising costs of membership of senior football and the lack of support from the national league it was felt that no other option was available.”
RTE wrote at the time of how Monaghan had,
“received significant support from the FAI and the National League including a facility development loan for €150,000 of which over €100,000 is still outstanding. The FAI also provided a €25,000 grant to the club in 2009 during its AGM in Monaghan.”
Was this enough though? Without a main sponsor, and as McGlone puts it, ‘the lack of support from the national league’ was the club destined to leave at season’s-end anyway? It was a sad state of affairs when Monaghan’s directors saw no other option than to pull out for financial posterity.
Surely it should be the other way around? To join the league should be seen as a step in the right direction, however under the FAI’s stewardship since 2006, clubs like Derry City, Drogheda United, Cork City, Shelbourne etc. have all had to contend with some form of struggle to hold onto their very existence.
Once again this cannot all be landed at the feet of John Delaney and/or the FAI, with the recession, poor governance and inflated budgets all playing their individual parts in clubs’ upheavals.
This writer now hopes that John Delaney, who is to preside over Irish football for a further five years will back up his positive comments for the future of our league when speaking to RTE a couple of months ago.
“So we’re doings things for all the clubs individually. The clubs met recently and they want to stay with the FAI because they know we are doing a decent job in terms of bringing the league forward. Is it at the pace everybody wants? No.
“But people forget we went through a recession in this country. Cutbacks had to be made and it’s a difficult country to live in.
“But at least we brought a stability that wasn’t there in the past. Is it at a stability we would want today? No. But, by God, it’s better than where it was.”
Anecdotal evidence up to this point shows that aside from a few European adventures, wholesale changes have yet to occur. For the sake of Irish football one hopes these comments are not just words and we will not see another club go the way of Monaghan again anytime soon.
To recap, the LOI has, in terms of European results prospered whereas several clubs have gone perilously close to extinction. There have without doubt been positives and there have been negatives. Whether fans like it or not the FAI are here to stay and the hope is that improved investment and sound governance will be the headlines concerning the LOI in years to come and not the same old stories year-on-year.
The proof of nurturing sustainability will only be seen in years to come, until then the ball is in your court Mr. Delaney and co.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena.