Tough days ahead, warns FAI president Donal Conway

Tough days ahead, warns FAI president Donal Conway
FAI president Donal Conway responds to questions yesterday at Abbotstown. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

FAI HQ at Abbotstown yesterday afternoon, the rain teeming down outside and, inside, a mood not a whole lot brighter than the weather, as president Donal Conway, vice president Paul Cooke, and general manager Noel Mooney sat around a table with a group of football journalists, further teasing out matters aired at an earlier press conference which had followed a meeting of the newly-convened national council.

It’s not all gloom and doom, of course, since the FAI are always keen to flag the progress they feel they are making in reforming and renewing an organisation laid low by the most damaging crisis in its history.

But, still, it didn’t seem unreasonable to ask the (interim) president if he felt the worst was now behind them or if — on foot of what might yet emerge from a number of ongoing investigations into the FAI’s finances and governance — Ireland’s much-trumpeted but by now long-suffering ‘football family’ should be bracing itself for further shocks?

Conway is not a man given to talking in screaming headlines but there was no mistaking the serious implications in his measured response.

“I think there are some tough days ahead of us, would be my view,” he said.

“The reports, okay, they will be retrospective in the main and we might be trying to be more forward-looking now. But I still think the reports and managing the output of the reports will be difficult days.”

Paul Cooke, once an arch-critic of the old regime but who now finds himself at the very heart of an organisation caught between the past and the future, didn’t disagree.

“There are going to be some difficult days,” he said.

One of which will come soon enough, when the 2018 accounts are finally presented to delegates at a reconvened AGM on a date, as yet to be confirmed, in late November/early December.

“I’ll tell you one thing, on as many records as you want, they won’t be pretty,” the vice president admitted.

I think there will be shock, yes. I’m not going to confirm any figure or anything like that but they’re not pretty.

Asked how he thinks delegates will react to confirmation of the John Delaney severance figure — estimated to have been in the region of €350,000 — when it is revealed in the accounts, Cooke replied: “Some people might think that it is a great settlement, others may say ‘shock-horror, why are we paying money in the first place?’ I honestly don’t know.

“It depends where you’re coming from. Some people will be shocked at it and will be very angry. Other people may say ‘yeah, that’s not bad’.”

Later, Cooke added: “Let’s put it this way, there are still some people unhappy with it (securing an exit agreement) and I wouldn’t blame them.

“But as Donal said, it was like a cloud hanging over the Association and we have to move on, we have to move forward. That was the reason for the timing. You also have to have someone who is willing to agree to a settlement. You have to have two parties.”

Meanwhile, after Noel Mooney had “categorically” ruled himself out of the running as a successor to Delaney as FAI CEO, Conway reiterated his contrasting intention, in the face of government opposition, to serve the full 12 months of his presidency of the current interim board.

“Between now and next July could something happen that would make me revise my decision?” he mused. “It possibly could. But it would have to be something coming from left-field that I’m not aware of now that would make me reconsider. It’s not a, ‘I’m going to be there come hell and high water’. It’ll be, ‘what’s the best thing to do’.”

But he did concede that if his staying on was seen as a major remaining impediment to the restoration of state funding, he would have to consider his position.

“Of course. If it’s (a case of) we are now about to resume funding, you have taken all the following steps in governance but there’s still one thing there that’s an obstruction and if that’s Donal Conway, then Donal Conway removes that obstruction.

“My understanding is that the issue of funding is connected to governance. We would have had the experience of calming down Uefa and Fifa. I have said that this is not personal, this is nothing to do with the president.

“This is about the FAI getting its house in order. When the FAI gets its house in order in a manner that is generally acceptable, funding will resume.

“In my conversations with (Sport Ireland chief executive) John Treacy, it’s a governance issue. And there are certain steps and stages we have to go through. We are not there yet and there may be quite a bit to go.”

And, reflecting on his own role on the FAI board in the John Delaney era, Conway said: “I don’t see the 13 years as serving John Delaney or endorsing John Delaney’s legacy or John Delaney’s work.

“I came from the underage game and whatever other areas of football that I would have worked through — that’s where I would see my contribution if it is to be called such. I think I have made a contribution but I will leave that to others to judge.”

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