By John Fallon
FAI chief executive John Delaney insists the association can “stand on its own two feet” after it was confirmed benefactor Denis O’Brien has aborted his arrangement to subsidise the senior management team’s salaries.
The billionaire Dubliner, who made his fortune through telecoms and media, began contributing to the FAI’s coffers for the €2m per annum appointment of Giovanni Trapattoni in 2008 but isn’t chipping in for the latest contract extension granted to Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane in January.
Initially, O’Brien paid 50% of the wages for manager and assistant but the proportion increased as the FAI began to suffer financially as they felt the burden of the Lansdowne Road redevelopment project, when debts rose to €70m
Those liabilities, including a €5m loan from Uefa, still stood at €40m according to the latest set of accounts, a reminder how indebted they are to O’Brien for his generous donation.
Last night, announcing the news on O’Brien’s Newstalk 106FM station, Delaney put the overall total of the decade-long contribution at €10m.
While the latest extension to O’Neill and Keane’s deal dragged on for three months, nearly allowing the Derry man depart to Stoke City for free, Delaney insisted the absence of O’Brien’s wedge wasn’t a factor.
“I knew from before the negotiations with Martin that it was last term Denis would be involved,” he said. “Martin agreed a deal and it was always going to the case that he was staying.
“Denis first came when things were difficult for us financially. We were rebuilding the Aviva Stadium and his voluntary decision allowed us push boundaries to have proper budget for a manager.
“Denis has been brilliant but I think, at this particular juncture, we’re strong enough now to stand on our own two feet.”
Delaney’s bullish declarations may enthuse loyal development officers who have suffered crippling cuts in salary and benefits.
Although the association has started to repay some of the reductions, primarily due to the bonuses from qualifying for successive European Championships, they are paltry compared to what was lost by staff.
League of Ireland clubs – especially the Premier Clubs Alliance – will also be interested in the rosy outlook. Prize money was slashed by 80%, with the current pot on offer for clubs static since 2015.
Delaney didn’t rule out O’Brien assisting the association in a different form in the future. In 2016, the businessman’s connections with Bank of Ireland facilitated the refinancing of the FAI’s mortgage from an American hedge fund, triggering a lower interest rate.
Meanwhile, the Waterford man refused to be drawn into the episode arising from Michael O’Neill’s assertion that the FAI sought “Catholic-only” players form the Northern Ireland underage ranks.
Despite Martin O’Neill hitting out at his northern counterpart on Thursday, Delaney kept his input solely rules-based.
He said: “I don’t want to talk too much about eligibility because it is the player’s choice and that should be fully respected.
“They’re the rules and I see many cases across Europe of players deciding to play for other countries. We lost Jack Grealish to England under the rules and had to respect that.”