They came to disrobe the emperor. They wanted to see the whites of his eyes, how he would manage under their steely gaze.
They came to see their names up in lights, each coveting the role of people’s champion, excavator of a higher truth. They, the members of the Oireachtas committee on tourism, transport and sport, came in vain.
John Delaney is no fool. He knew that yesterday’s appearance before the Oireachtas committee presented only negative possibilities. His charm and guile would not suffice.
Things have gone beyond reason. He has a target pinned to his back with the legend “public enemy number one”. Nobody was going to give him a break in Committee Room Number Four in the bowels of Leinster House.
So he kept schtum. Yesterday, he walked into Leinster House looking entirely relaxed and why wouldn’t he? There would be no lynching of this superlative politician. He’d just sit there and smile.
After reading a four-page statement — pulled from a hat on the morning rather than produced in advance as per custom — he said that would be it, folks, no more to say about the hundred grand loan he gave the FAI in 2017.
“I am not in a position to answer any questions,” he stated and went on to invoke another martyr who had been hung, drawn and quartered before an Oireachtas committee.
“Some members made highly prejudicial statements about me and in light of the Kerins judgment I ask the committee to respect that position.”
Across the Liffey in the Four Courts they were this very week still chewing over poor Angela’s appearance before the Public Accounts Committee in 2014. Johnny Boy was making sure that they wouldn’t have him to kick around like that.
What followed was relatively low key. The current chair of the FAI board, Donal Conway, took most the heat. Only three members of the board, including Mr Delaney, knew about his controversial €100,000 loan in April 2017.
It wasn’t officially recorded, and it wasn’t noted in the annual accounts. It wasn’t mentioned at the next board meeting following the issuing of the cheque.
Fine Gael’s Noel Rock asked whether the Dundalk FC club was the creditor that had to be paid from Mr Delaney’s generous offer. Mr Conroy declined to confirm.
If it was Dundalk, the optics would be terrible.
The club won the League of Ireland title the previous year.
The prize money amounts to around €100,000, less than a third of Mr Delaney’s salary while he was CEO.
How would it look if the CEO had to provide a loan to pay the prize money for the league’s winners?
Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy asked would the FAI be satisfied if one of the league’s clubs conducted its financial affairs as the FAI itself did in relation to the Delaney loan.
“Is it a question of some elements of the FAI being more equal than others?” said Mr Troy, locating his inner George Orwell.
On it went, with Johnny sitting there and observing. At one stage he requested a comfort break and everybody wondered whether he was taking the piss.
A number of questions were asked about his bright new shining position of executive vice president.
“Do you think it was appropriate to create a new position for your former CEO?” Sinn Féin’s Imelda Munster wanted to know.
Do you think that it sends out a good message?
Mr Conway outlined how John Delaney was the only man in the whole, wide world who could have filled this new position.
The politicians huffed and puffed, and, to be fair, collectively did raise a number of points that reflect shocking financial management. But they didn’t land any blows on the elusive and relatively silent Mr Delaney. The drama, the theatre, the righteous grandstanding of other fabled committee set-pieces, was absent.
How exactly the FAI will regain the trust of Sports Ireland in order to restart funding remains to be seen.
One thing is sure, however. While Mr Delaney remains in the FAI, the organisation will be stymied in the quality of candidate it might hope to attract to the CEO role. What self-respecting administrator would take a job in which their powerful predecessor would still be in situ, in an office down the corridor?
That, by any standards, is not a good outcome for association football in this country.