Cooke the front-runner in terms of credentials and timing

Is it a poisoned chalice or an opportunity of a lifetime?

Cooke the front-runner in terms of credentials and timing

Is it a poisoned chalice or an opportunity of a lifetime?

We shall know soon enough how attractive, or otherwise, the FAI’s chief executive vacancy is to prospective candidates.

News over the weekend of John Delaney’s official cessation in the role, coming five months after being sent on fully-paid gardening leave, signifies a watershed moment in Irish football.

Delaney lasted 14 and a half years in the post. In contrast, over the same period prior to his appointment, four chief executives came and went through the revolving Merrion Square green door.

Once the four independent directors are this month added to complete the 12-person board, an advertisement will be placed for a new CEO.

The chosen one will have the difficult task of convincing the public, the state and, most importantly in the circumstances, sponsors, that the FAI can be trusted.

That will require a credible figure, someone with a track record of working diligently in the background on hatching commercial deals and lifting morale among staff. Appearing on weekend chat-shows and featuring in sycophantic mini-documentaries will not form part of the brief.

Here are five contenders:

Niall Quinn

The former Sunderland chairman is at a loose end seeking a new challenge. His plans, within the ‘visionary group’ he formed to overhaul the FAI and domestic league, haven’t been wholly embraced by constituents.

Equally, he’s shied away from joining the new board because Donal Conway and John Earley stayed on from the previous regime.

A great man for soundbites, Quinn recently said the old guard of the FAI is alive and well.

That said, his reconciliation with Roy Keane at Sunderland shows he can mend fences and his success in generating funds for Tipperary hurling illustrates a commercial shrewdness that the FAI badly needs.

Fintan Drury

A staunch adversary of Delaney, Drury carries a blend of football and business experience to boost his candidature.

Formerly a player at UCD, the Dubliner made his name firstly as an RTÉ journalist before establishing Ireland’s most successful agency for players, Platinum One.

Over the years, they’ve represented the bulk of Ireland’s senior squad and brought Real Madrid to Dublin for the 2009 friendly against Shamrock Rovers.

That was just after Drury’s plans to create an All-Ireland league were scuppered. He’s recently returned to the concept, helping Kieran Lucid push his proposals and a seat behind the desk as CEO would help the project materialise.

Noel Mooney

The man currently at the helm, with the gimmicky title of general manager, has to be in the frame.

Notionally at least, the Limerick native is due to finish his secondment from Uefa back to his former employer next month. The arrival in May of Mooney was strongly objected to by the government, given he was seen as an ally of Delaney’s, a controversy which he claims sours his willingness to apply for the permanent position.

More pertinently, he remains a longshot due to his propensity for making gaffes. His failed attempt to integrate outcast Brian Kerr back into the FAI exacerbated a reputation as a loose cannon. Not what the FAI needs at this juncture.

Paul Cooke

Another man steeped in business and football to be ostracised by Delaney, how the tables have turned.

Fellow Waterfordman Cooke is now inside the tent, working off the title of vice-president but is, in reality, the FAI’s chief troubleshooter.

Cooke left both newspapers he presided over in better shape than he took them on and, as a veteran chartered accountant, operates with pragmatism.

A straight-talker, his skillset is more attuned to the boardroom than cutting ribbons on pitches while donning the ceremonial chain of presidential office.

Would have to sacrifice his place as a voting member of the board but is the clear front-runner in terms of credentials and timing.

Sarah Keane

Keane, as the current CEO of Swim Ireland and President of the Olympic Federation of Ireland, has the vital support of Sport Ireland and is being viewed as the answer to repair relations with the Government.

She was commended for her contribution to the ‘Stakeholders forum’ in late May, highlighting, in broad terms, the virtues of proper corporate governance. Clearly a fresh voice without football baggage, that doesn’t come without drawbacks. The corridors of football power can be lined with landmines.

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