John Delaney Going, going, gone. But, hold on, not entirely gone. Not yet. Not officially and not definitively.
Unlike Honorary Secretary Michael Cody and Honorary Treasurer Eddie Murray, both of whom have resigned from the FAI board, John Delaney has, according to yesterday evening’s statement from the Association, “offered to step aside from carrying out his role as Executive Vice-President with immediate effect pending the completion of an independent investigation by the Association into issues of concern to the Board.”
Given the extent of the crisis currently engulfing the FAI, few will be able to imagine any circumstances under which, having just stepped out, John Delaney would step back in again. Or perhaps want to. In any event, were he to pull that one off, even Tiger Woods would have to doff the cap to the undisputed GOAT of comeback kids.
The fact that two of the FAI’s top brass have fallen on their swords will be seen as a modest move in the right direction but hardly enough to placate the now deafening clamour for root and branch reform in Abbotstown, even if last night’s statement had the remaining members of the board keen “to assure members, football supporters and all stakeholders and sponsors that it is expediting all processes designed to restore faith in the Football Association of Ireland”.
The Taoiseach, the Sports Minister, Sport Ireland, the Oireachtas Committee on Transport Tourism and Sport, and, not least, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement are among the most prominent and, to varying degrees, powerful parties anxious to find out more but, in truth, all of what John Delaney always liked to call the ‘football family’ – from sponsors and the FAI’s own staff to players and supporters - wants to know exactly what has been going on behind closed doors in recent years, how things have come to this sorry pass and, most importantly of all, how the running of the FAI can be radically improved in the future.
The speed at which this story has developed has been breathtaking. It was only on St Patrick’s Day that Mark Tighe in
The Sunday Times
revealed that the then FAI CEO had given the association a €100,000 loan back in 2017 and that he had sought, and failed, to get an injunction to prevent the story being published.
And it was five days after that, with the final whistle having just blown on Ireland’s 1-0 win in Gibraltar in the Euro 2020 qualifiers, that the FAI announced that Delaney was stepping down as CEO but only to remain on in a newly created position of Executive Vice President.
If that looked to many like a classic fudge, even some of Delaney’s critics might have been prepared to concede at that point that there was a logic in the Association’s desire to retain the experience and clout of someone so well connected in the corridors of power at Uefa and Fifa.
But as the drip-drip of revelation threatened to turn into a dam burst, that position – as well as Delaney’s own brand new one - became increasingly untenable.
Sport Ireland’s decision to withhold funding was a hugely significant move but it was the debacle of the Oireachtas Committee hearing the following day which really ramped up the pressure, Delaney silent in the court of popular opinion as, acting on legal advice, he had little of substance to say beyond reading out a prepared statement.
But even with a succession of committee members expressing their frustration and anger at what they saw as evasion and stonewalling, not just by Delaney but on the part of the whole FAI delegation, enough tantalising detail still emerged from the protracted proceedings to show that there was much more to ‘Loangate’ than we had previously been told.
We learned, for example, that – contrary to earlier statements – the majority of the board of the FAI knew nothing about the loan for two years and, furthermore, that it was only upon receiving media inquiries about its existence in early March that the review of the association’s management structure – which recommended the creation of Delaney’s new role – had been commissioned.
While FAI President Donal Conway declined to confirm that the €100,000 cheque had been needed to pay Uefa prize money to Dundalk, enough had been said – or more to the point, not said - by the FAI, and John Delaney in particular, to leave the association badly exposed and, over the next couple of days, subject to increasingly trenchant criticism and calls for wholesale reform.
And, on a personal as well as a professional level, things only got worse for Delaney last Sunday with the emergence of eye-watering claims about extravagant expenses which, following on from the previous revelation that his rent had been paid on top of his already lavish salary, must have left even his most loyal supporters among the grassroots choking over their breakfasts of thin gruel.
Who’d have ever thought Delexit could be so complicated? But then, notwithstanding John Delaney’s position as, for so many years, a figure both dominant and divisive in the administration of Irish football, this has long since become a story about much more than one man.