From Lansdowne Road to Wembley and from Palermo to Ibaraki, Niall Quinn enjoyed plenty of euphoric moments in the green shirt.
But even though suited rather than booted, and standing outside the Department of Sport rather than a dressing room, the football legend has rarely seemed more enthused by a result than he did yesterday afternoon, as he talked up what he clearly regards as a game-changing deal for Irish football, hammered out in negotiations between government, Uefa, the Bank of Ireland, and the FAI.
“Truthfully, I left home this morning and my wife said I haven’t seen you like this since you played,” he said.
“And I think she’s dead right. This is a brilliant day for football in Ireland. It’s manna from heaven, really. It’s the chance to put Irish football back on track. And what a deck of cards to be given to play with.
We’re not holding a bad hand anymore. We’re now holding a good hand.
Referencing the input of new FAI independent chairman Roy Barrett and interim chief executive Gary Owens — both of whom had previously been involved with Quinn in shaping reform plans proposed by his Football Visionary Group — the man who was himself recently appointed interim deputy chief executive in Abbotstown said:
“There was no point in us coming together to make change if it was going to be just to survive another little while. We pressed home — Roy in particular — the need to get football back on track and to drive it to places where it’s never been before.”
In total, the rescue package is believed to be worth in the region of €30m, with the Government contributing some €20m on top of the restoration of state funding worth €2.9m annually.
But, transformative though the deal may prove to be — especially coming, as it could only do, on the back of reforms which are already under way in Abbotstown — the ‘manna from heaven’ is no free lunch for the FAI.
The devil is in the details, with the Government laying down a number of new requirements for governance reform, ranging from a prohibition on former board members being appointed to FAI committees and an increase in the number of independent directors on the board from four to six, to the development of strategic five-year plans for the League of Ireland and the Women’s National League.
It was those terms and conditions, outlined in a lengthy Memorandum of Understanding between the FAI and the Minister for Sport, which Quinn was quick to cite when asked if the Association could really be trusted to spend their new funding wisely.
“The document screams of three years of money but five years of strategy, and the people charged with that have no choice,” he said.
The conditions that go with this support are very clearly defined in terms of the obligations and onuses that are put on the FAI. We have absolutely no choice but to spend it wisely.
Quinn said he does not regard the Government’s demands as onerous.
“No, because they’re for the right reasons and they’re the right thing to do to reach best practice. We’ve spoken many times about the culture in the Association, how it has to change. And to do that properly, we must be seen to have the best governance that’s available coming out of the previous chaotic regime.
“When I was shaking the trees with other people, not knowing if we’d get anywhere with it, I commented that the Governance Review (of last June) could have gone further. But with the reforms added to the ticket in the support from government, in effect that’s what happened today.
As executives, we will take our duty from that and we expect all of the other stakeholders who are affected by the reforms to look closely at them and act accordingly in response. The alternative was doomsday.”
Quinn said he especially welcomed the commitment to protect all low-to-middle income employees at the FAI from compulsory redundancy for a period of 18 months.
“The special bit about today is that the rank and file, the foot-soldiers who do a brilliant job and who felt so vulnerable in the past year, this is their day. They’re in a good place. There’s no certainty about all of us at the top end. We’ll get to the nitty-gritty as we put a new infrastructure in place. Let’s see where that goes.”
In the meantime, he was understandably keen to accentuate the positive.
There are some great things that we have to start talking about. The Euro 2020 finals — there is €130m coming into Dublin to be spent and €30m of that goes directly to the Exchequer.
“On through the League of Ireland, grassroots, amateur football, ladies’ football — which we’ll be investing heavily in — we will get to see far bigger impacts on social economy. We got the support today and we will build on it and pay it back in abundance. The perfect start for us is 2020, to say to the Government, ‘there’s €30m back’, and we move on from that.”
Quinn was speaking just one week to the day since he’d been appointed the FAI’s interim deputy CEO. To the observation that he was looking a bit drained, he smiled and said: “I am and I am not. Funnily enough, now that’s it’s announced I’m feeling tired. When we were up there and it was getting signed, the hairs were up in the neck. Now I can get a night’s sleep.”
But not before the old nitty-gritty beckoned — he had to head off to Portlaoise for a meeting with referees who have grown disenchanted and angry with what they see as a lack of support from the FAI.