Newly elected FAI president Gerry McAnaney believes that, in contrast to false dawns in the past, a genuinely transformed Association can emerge from the worst crisis in its history.
“We were here before in 2002,” he said, in reference to a previous blueprint for FAI reform after the Saipan debacle.
“With Genesis, once we got a bit of it done, it was forgotten about. But the boil is lanced now. I think everyone within our Association — be it the board, independent directors, interim CEO, all of those people and the complete community of football — they can see they can make some sort of impact now.”
While the brokering of a financial rescue package for the cash-strapped Association is the most urgent item on the agenda, it was suggested to the new president that, even with all the reforms currently underway, the perception of the FAI as a ‘toxic brand’ will be hard to remove — especially with the full results of various investigations into issues relating to governance and finances yet to emerge.
“None of us know what’s coming in those reports so I can’t comment on them,” he said. “And what you mentioned about the brand… you look at [new chairman and directors] Roy Barrett, Liz Joyce and Catherine Guy. People say, ‘How did you manage to get them?’
“People can also look at Amrop, who did an excellent job in the recruitment process. I think we had 180 people of calibre applying. If 180 people of calibre were willing to come into a brand that’s seen as toxic, I think we have a chance.
I presume that the reports will not be the best ever school reports, we all know that. But, as Brian Kerr would say, we have to batter on and that’s it. And we have to keep the game going as best we can.
McAnaney, who counts Kerr as a personal friend, said he would like to see him brought back in from the cold by the FAI, after an attempted rapprochement last year degenerated into a war of words between the former Ireland manager and then acting CEO Noel Mooney.
“I would certainly be willing to talk to him myself,” McAnaney said.
“I don’t have to tell you about Brian and what he has done over the years. The one thing I know about Brian, and I know him a long time, is that he is an extremely loyal person. That loyalty stretches to Irish football, through thick and thin. So, Brian has something to give, of course he has.”
An immediate challenge for McAnaney and the new regime is to address the controversy which has blown up around the admission of a Shamrock Rovers B team to the coming season’s League of Ireland First Division.
Amid threats of legal action and boycott, clubs opposed to the move have called for urgent talks with the FAI top brass, including newly installed interim CEO Gary Owens and interim deputy CEO Niall Quinn.
The new president said he is ready to play his part in finding a solution.
“Absolutely. I would see, between the board and Gary and Niall when they come in, it would be well up the ‘to do’ list. I’d see people around the table sooner rather than later. All parties? Yes, it’s the only way. You have to talk these things through. There’s a solution to every problem.”
A 61-year-old retired army commandant and former Ireland under-age international, with nearly 20 years of service on the FAI council under his belt, McAnaney won a convincing victory over board member Martin Heraghty in the vote to succeed outgoing president Donal Conway at Saturday’s EGM in Dublin.
In common with the rest of the board, McAnaney will be up for re-election at the Association’s AGM in July.
Describing his election as “probably one of the greatest days of my life”, he said: “As president of the FAI in its current situation, I feel the greatest thing that I would have to offer at the moment is communication.
“With our new board, new governance and new directors, we have to keep everyone informed. And I would see the president’s role as literally to get out and spread the gospel of the FAI.”