Delaney: Debt-free by 2020 ‘within FAI’s compass’

The ability of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane to complete their mission to deliver World Cup qualification next year could have a bearing on whether the FAI will be rid of its debts by 2020, according to John Delaney.

Delaney: Debt-free by 2020 ‘within FAI’s compass’

Discussing the organisation’s finances in Kilkenny yesterday, the association’s chief executive revealed the FAI still owes half of the €70m mortgage they were burdened with by the Lansdowne Road redevelopment costs. Instead of meeting their €74m portion of the rebuild in 2010 through revenue expected from a fanciful premium ticket scheme, the FAI were forced into borrowing heavily.

That debt pile, particularly the €22m lost between 2010-2015 on interest and costs, triggered a litany of cutbacks that Irish football is still struggling to recover from. Staff redundancies and pay-cuts were imposed, coupled with a 70% cull on prize-money for a League of Ireland sector in dire need of investment. As was highlighted so starkly last month by the women’s squad, a nominal per diem of €30 given to players outside of the senior men’s squad on international duty was removed amid the austerity.

While the economy has improved, it remains to be seen how long it will take for the FAI to enjoy sufficient cash-flow to optimise the running of the game at all levels. Reaching the last 16 of the Euros last year banked them €11m in prize-money which contributed largely to a chunk coming off the €45 in stadium debt owed at that juncture.

Delaney suggested the switch of lenders from US-based Corporate Capital Trust (CCT) investment fund to Bank of Ireland should offer wriggle-room to start eradicating some of the areas worst hit by the cutbacks, especially the League of Ireland. Also central to the arithmetic is the accrual, both direct and indirect, from negotiating a path to Russia in 2018.

A solid start has propelled Ireland into joint-top spot at the midway point of the World Cup campaign and how the second half unfolds, including a possible play-off in November, may frame choices made around the fabled FAI boardroom table.

Delaney and his fellow officers have remained steadfast in the face of criticism about their assertion to be debt-free by 2020.

“Our latest accounts (to year-end 2016) will be sent out to our members at the end of June and the banking debt is €34m,” said the Waterford native. “If we want to reduce the debt to zero by 2020, it is well within our compass to do. 2016 was the last year of the interest charges outside of mainstream banking, so by the end of 2017, we’ll have our first clean year of a low interest rate.

“That decision on whether to clear the debt by 2020 or use the funds to further develop the game will probably be made in the first quarter, even six months, of next year. Particularly after we know whether we qualify for the World Cup, and where we are in certain other sponsorships and naming rights for the stadium.

“If any board is going to make a decision in the first six months of next year, you want clarity around a range of matters, one being World Cup qualification.

“We have always said that qualifying is a bonus and benefit but that would come into the decision-making as well.”

Delaney also used his media briefing — held to coincide with the launch of Kilkenny hosting the annual general meeting on 22 July and Festival of Football in the preceding days — to allay any fears of a fixture clash on Wednesday, August 2 between Dundalk’s Champions League tie and the friendly between Manchester United and Sampdoria.

Stephen Kenny’s side will need to get past their first opposition in Europe for the dilemma to materialise but Delaney, who last month was voted onto UEFA’s powerful executive committee, confirmed there would be no clash, going so far as to float the possibility of games being played on consecutive nights at the national stadium.

“We’ve already spoken to UEFA through (competitions director) Fran Gavin and, if there’s a clash, we’ll ensure Dundalk also get to play their game in the right circumstances as well as Manchester United,” he said.

“Dundalk could possibly play their game on the Tuesday. It is a positive problem and I hope it becomes a problem by them getting through to that stage in Europe. I wouldn’t rule out them using Lansdowne Road at all, like they did last year.”

One domestic game negative Delaney wants to see brought to a conclusion is the cloud hanging over Athlone Town. Prompted by information received from UEFA, the association launched an investigation into all matters around allegations of irregular betting patterns on three games since the midlands club was taken over by investors, who still wish to remain anonymous.

“We would hope to finish the investigation sooner rather than later but there are still interviews ongoing,” he said. “If there are charges, it will be put to the disciplinary committee. I didn’t meet with the Athlone directors when they came in. My role with the league clubs has been meeting them around strategic plans. We’ve had submissions from 16 of the 20 clubs so far.”

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