James McClean and Martin O’Neill ‘regret’ criticism of referee

In an official FAI submission, James McClean and Martin O’Neill have expressed their regret to Fifa over their criticism of referee David Fernandez Borbalan’s handling of Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Austria at the Aviva Stadium.

And FAI boss John Delaney said that he doesn’t believe their comments, which prompted a Fifa disciplinary probe, warrant match bans.

After the Spanish official had disallowed a Shane Duffy goal and also declined to give a penalty when Jon Walters went down under a challenge from Stefan Lainer in the 1-1 draw, McClean described the referee as the opposition’s “12th man” while O’Neill said his handling of the game had been “very poor”.

In response, Fifa launched a disciplinary investigation and are due to reach a decision on what sanctions, if any, to impose at a meeting on July 20 though it could be later before they announce their verdict.

Speculation about the possible punishments facing the player and manager has ranged from the imposition of fines to match bans.

Asked yesterday what he thought the outcome might be, John Delaney replied: “It’s an independent Fifa committee. I know what I’d give if I was asked to give the decision but I’d be slightly biased. All I can say is we’ve made our submissions. I think our submission is very much based on saying, listen, people would regret what was said and all that would come of that. I think that’s a pretty fair position for everybody to give, be it Martin, be it James and be it the association as well.

“You hope it’s not matches. I don’t personally think that it deserves games. But that’s not my decision. Again it’s an independent committee and anything there is also subject to appeal.”

On the subject of whether the FAI have yet given any thought to extending the contracts of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane beyond the current World Cup campaign, the CEO said: “First of all, I think they’ve done really well. I know when we started off, with three wins and three draws, unbeaten in six matches, in the group that we’re in, people would have been very pleased. They’ve done really, really well.

“But we haven’t spoken nor has it come up in terms of anything about a renewal. I know there would be a lot of trust between the management and the association. And to be honest, at this stage, Martin’s mind and the association’s mind is firmly placed on Georgia. But have they done a good job? No question about it, they got us to the Euros and the last 16 and, so far, they’ve put in a great effort to get to the World Cup. Let’s just see how the remaining games go first of all.”

The FAI chief executive was speaking at a media briefing on the association’s finances at which he revealed their profit from the Irish team’s participation in Euro 2016 — after costs of €6.5m, including player and management bonuses, had been deducted from prize money of €11m — was €4.5m.

Turnover for the year was €50m which finance director Eamon Breen described as “the highest in the association’s history”.

The FAI’s bank debt, relating to the Aviva Stadium, now stands at €34m, with John Delaney again insisting, if the association so desires, it could be eliminated by 2020. He also maintained clearing the debt is not contingent upon Ireland qualifying for the finals of the 2018 World Cup or 2020 European Championships.

“The decision for the board to make in the first six months of next year is do we take it all the way down, some of the way down or leave a substantial amount of debt and reinvest it in the game,” he said.

“There are clear areas that have nothing to do with tournaments, that display we can take the debt down. There is renegotiation of contracts by 2020, the naming rights (for the Aviva) obviously are up in 2020, there is also (Uefa) HatTrick money and 10-year tickets. So it comes within our compass to do it. I don’t think that can be disputed.

“When you do the numbers, even on the back of an envelope — we’ll do them in more detail at the AGM — it’s easy to see how we can generate €34 million to take our debt down to zero by 2020, particularly with Uefa TV contracts as well.

“That is all well within our compass aside from qualification. Now if we qualify, that obviously gives us more.”

The FAI boss also revealed yesterday that, following his election to the Uefa Executive Committee, he has taken up two new roles with European football’s governing body, as Vice Chair of the Women’s Committee and Chair of the Youth and Amateur Committee.

Delaney declined to “revisit” the dispute involving the Irish senior women’s team which attracted huge publicity earlier this year and but said he was happy it had been resolved and maintained that promoting women’s football in this country continues to be a key part of the FAI’s strategic plan.

“It’s good for Irish football that a member of the organisation is represented on the board of Uefa,” he said.

“What I want to do with those specific roles and the board role is make sure you improve football in Europe but also to assist back in Ireland.”

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