What was it all about, John?

What was it all about, John?
John Delaney removes his tie before throwing it into the crowd after Ireland’s Euro 2012 qualifier against Russia. Picture: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Dear John,

It’s over. Let’s face it, it’s been over for a while. Too much has been said. We don’t know everything, but we know enough. I know you’re still hanging around, but come on, you’ve been sleeping on the couch for three weeks. A beautifully upholstered executive vice-president couch, but still. No need to pack — we’ll send on the ties and that Uefa jacket you love.

Now that it’s over — and I think we can say that, can’t we? — what was it all about? Two decades of struggle and intrigue, dodging and weaving through the killing fields of Irish football politics; plotting your course to the top and staying there, shaping the whole wreckage of what you found in your own image. Wielding power, how you saw fit. Becoming ‘The Man’.

What was it all for? Was it because of what they did to your father? Joe left in 1996 over the business with George the Greek and the missing ticket money. The FAI’s Night of the Long Knives, they called it. Poor old Joe got it between the shoulder blades alright. And all he was doing was trying to get more tickets for the Irish fans at the World Cup.

Funny, you used to say that as well, that everything you did was in the best interests of Irish football. You didn’t tell us much about the €100,000 loan last week, but you did say that it was “for the benefit of Irish football”.

Of course, that was it. The 2,000 clubs visited and all the money handed out for dressing rooms and astro turf; head-hunting big-name management teams; manoeuvring and glad-handing at Uefa to get all manner of gold stars as best boys in class. The good of Irish football, that’s what drove you.

Hmmm. Now, if we’re talking straight here, and we might as well, there were some things that weren’t that good for Irish football. There were people who could have helped — Brian Kerr, Packie Bonner, others who had much to offer, but whose faces didn’t fit. They had to go. Niall Quinn says he helped you when he was on the Sports Council with “grants and stuff”. Now he’s another face on television giving out about you. What happened there?

Was it always for the good of Irish football? Or was it what you said was for the good of Irish football? How did those things get so mixed up?

Ah, but we needed a strongman amid the wreckage of Saipan and all that. You were that man. You cleared up the mess, smartened up the organisation, moved it out to spanking new offices in Abbotstown. You were a moderniser, a visionary, a man who got things done. You could look into your heart and see what Irish football wanted. Some recognised that and spoke up for you, other men who knew how to get things done: Denis O’Brien, Pat Hickey, Michael Healy-Rae.

But how much did you get done? When the Sunday Independent persuaded you to take part in a documentary about yourself — remember John The Baptist? — you talked about those early days when the scent of change filled your nostrils. “Saipan gave people like myself who wanted to reform the organisation the momentum to drive forward,” you said.

“Saipan was just a snapshot of other ills in the organisation, the governance of how it was run.”

Governance. That big dirty word they keep hitting you over the head with. All these years later you’re being run out of the FAI with people still talking about governance and, like in the madness of your father’s day, mysterious six-figure sums flying in and out of association bank accounts. What was it all for?

What was it all about, John?

What was it all about, all those miles on the road, up and down the country, going to dinner dances and pitch openings and medal presentations? At the end of every one of those drives, they cheered your name and slapped you on the back. They said they’d support you ever more. One of them even named their ground John Delaney Park. Was it to feel loved? Is that what you drove all those miles for?

Is that why you bought all that drink for the fans on away trips? Who could forget the Booze Train from Bratislava, or Shoes Off in Sopot?

“Oh John Delaney, he used to be a wanker but he’s alright now!” they sang at Euro 2012. How long before you realised they would never really love you, was it before they smuggled banners into grounds to decry your name, and threw tennis balls onto the pitch at the Aviva?

The Aviva Stadium — now that was the real John Delaney Park. You gave Irish football a home (and a very large mortgage, but look, what’s done is done) and this is how they thank you?

Is that why you kept schtum in front of the politicians, at the sheer ingratitude of it? The grants handed out, the beer bought, the modernising, the stadium, the seat among the high kings of Uefa? To hell with them all. Good luck to them without you.

Did it all flash through your mind in the long hours at that Oireachtas committee? What they did to your father, how you put it right, how you took power and how good it felt. The thrusting young superstar sports administrator. The profile, the privilege, the beautiful girlfriend.

You were a celebrity, a proper supernova celebrity — entitled to those expenses, by the way, that was all part of it, did they expect you to live like a normal person? You drank deep from it and it nourished you and you wanted more.

The power. You could make those who supported you, or break those who didn’t. You sidelined the critics, ignored the questions, disdained the naysayers in the media. They didn’t understand what it was all about, no matter how they probed and prodded and whinged about transparency.

What was it all about? It was all about you, the whole thing. Wasn’t it?

By the way, some of these ties REALLY need dry cleaning.

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