At last, football is the dominant theme at FAI AGM

For the previous 24 months, since the association convened what was meant to be their annual function in Trim, financial, governance, and boardroom issues were invariably to the fore.
At last, football is the dominant theme at FAI AGM

FAI chief executive officer Jonathan Hill at the FAI AGM at FAI HQ in Abbotstown, Dublin. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

On the occasion of the ninth AGM or EGM held by the FAI in the space of two years yesterday, it was a relief to see football to finally dominate proceedings.

For the previous 24 months, since the association convened what was meant to be their annual function in Trim, financial, governance, and boardroom issues were invariably to the fore.

While there remains a path to travel for those problems to ease, especially as the company controlling Irish football has €102.5m worth of creditors to service, that only one question was posed on the accounts indicates the change of focus.

A total of 100 delegates from the new 141-member assembly logged onto the virtual summit for the latest update, with the vast bulk of the presentation delivered by Jonathan Hill.

The chief executive in place since last November made mention afterwards of previous yearly summits attracting negative vibes and, despite the FAI requiring another multimillion rescue package to offset the impact of Covid-19 on their cashflow, he’s doing his utmost to chart a roadmap towards self-sufficiency.

Given success on the pitch is integral to rebuilding the FAI brand and balance sheet, the fact that both the men’s and women’s senior team endured their worst run of results in 50 years since his arrival exacerbates the challenge.

Neither the senior international team nor the FAI Cup has a sponsor, a damning indictment on the state of affairs in its Centenary year.

“We keep talking and engaging with brands, telling them our new story, and we’ll get there,” was Hill’s upbeat assessment on the commercial front.

If that declaration forms his part of the bargain, he expects others to up their game too, primarily the teams the Irish public most resonates with.

Qualification for at least every second tournament and top-20 European rankings were the eye-catching targets for the senior teams from a draft strategy document Hill unveiled.

Ireland’s women have yet to sample a major finals, and unless Stephen Kenny masterminds a salvage job in the World Cup campaign by November, the record for the men will be one tournament appearance in the last five.

“We expect our senior international teams to be qualifying for every other [second] event,” said Hill. “We know it’s more difficult in practical terms to qualify for Fifa events than Uefa events at the moment. You have to get the balance right between ambition and realism”.

In that context, Kenny’s contract situation — another legacy of the previous regime — presents a complication.

Unlike his predecessors, Kenny’s deal expires in the middle of a campaign, the Uefa Nations League series, in July 2022.

This juncture, as confirmed by Hill, was designed for the end of a typical World Cup cycle, but the Qatar showpiece was deferred until the later winter months to avoid the oppressively humid conditions.

Ireland’s interest in the tournament may well be over before the final qualifiers, meaning Kenny’s future is a fluid topic.

“The date on the contract is July 2022, but that was deemed to be a different point in the football calendar to what it is now,” Hill said.

“We wouldn’t have anticipated that to be in the middle of a Nations League qualification process. As our chairman Roy Barrett previously said, we discuss the senior team after every international window.

“We have a monthly board meeting, so yes, there will be a review at the November meeting, as there is at every board meeting when there’s been an international window.”

Where Robbie Keane fits into the set-up is also a lingering dilemma.

Kenny has long made his mind up that Ireland’s record scorer isn’t welcome on his coaching staff, leaving the FAI with a prize asset employee under contract and without a role. It was a mess Hill inherited from the caretaker hierarchy who presided over the transition from Mick McCarthy to Kenny last April.

“I personally don’t believe the association handled that situation particularly well and, for that, I was happy to apologise to Robbie in our conversations,” he said.

“Robbie and I had a good, long chat in London around the Euros, where he interacted well with some key Uefa people and represented Ireland very well. We are hopeful to have a position to communicate in the next few weeks.

One thing I can say is Robbie is absolutely committed to Irish football and the Irish team. He said so at the Pro Licence event last Wednesday, wishing Stephen and the team luck in September’s World Cup qualifiers.

Hill expressed confidence for up to half the 51,000-capacity to be permitted in the Aviva Stadium for the Azerbaijan and Serbia ties on the team’s return from Portugal.

Linked to that ongoing restriction is a reliance on the Government to subsidise their losses. Only for State relief of €13.2m, of which €11m went straight into the FAI coffers, they wouldn’t have returned a surplus of €1.6m in the accounts approved yesterday.

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