John Fallon: Lots to learn from Barrett's reign for new FAI Chairperson

Barrett shocked his fellow directors last week by announcing his imminent departure after three years.
John Fallon: Lots to learn from Barrett's reign for new FAI Chairperson

EXIT: Roy Barrett in attendance at an FAI AGM at FAI HQ in Abbotstown, Dublin. Pic: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

AFTER neither in-house or virtual formats completed the FAI annual general meeting, Roy Barrett is attempting a hybrid version for his swansong on Saturday.

Members of the general assembly can cast their votes at the Liffey Valley Hotel or electronically online, removing the risk of further embarrassment by the summit failing to achieve a quorum of 50% plus one.

Barrett shocked his fellow directors last week by announcing his imminent departure after three years. The former managing director of Goodbody Stockbroker made history by becoming their first-ever independent Chairperson but it could be a while yet before his legacy is truly judged.

However noble the gender balance reasons he cited for taking the lead in stepping aside as the Government deadline looms in December, the tone of recent meetings with delegates and the likelihood of another stormy affair on Saturday meant the seat he occupies continued to heat up.

The last attempt in December at ratifying five of his fellow directors descended into farce as Corporate governance – that very plague on the previous regime – came under scrutiny before the IT system malfunctioned just as the ballots commenced.

"You're making the last board look like Mother Theresa," preached John Earley, a deposed member of the last board, reducing proceedings to festive pantomime level.

Barrett can be comforted in the knowledge that regardless of what unravels over the weekend or flak is shipped he'll soon be leaving it behind for a successor to tackle.

He'll be walking away but we can be sure contenders are observing from a distance, wondering if the vacancy is worth the hassle.

Whoever confronts the task will be minded to start as they mean to go on and avoid blurred lines between custodian and executive functions.

Before straying into football administration in 2019 through the Visionary Group he was immersed in alongside Niall Quinn, Barrett was a relatively low-key figure.

Making his wealthy clients wealthier was a job he excelled in without fuss or media attention, alien to what awaited him in Abbotstown.

That he wasn't on the original shortlist for the job, had engaged with Sports Minister Shane Ross before being ratified and, as it turned out, was recommended by the FAI's main creditor Bank of Ireland were all signals of trouble ahead.

He was soon in the firing line, both from the majority of his own board for failing to consult them before ceding the number of football directors in the bailout deal and then former Blackrock schoolmate Andrew Doyle. The successful corporate lawyer and Shelbourne owner quit from the FAI's finance committee, claiming "appalling governance".

It's important at this point to outline what exactly the job specification of the Chairman Entails.

First flagged by Aidan Horan in his Governance Review Group report of June 2019, seven duties were detailed, later expanded to 11 when the handbook on governance was finally completed.

Without analysing each, the theme concurred with the generic description of the role; someone drafted in with an impartial outlook to act as a guardian, facilitator and to frame Strategy. Integrity and probity are prerequisites but nowhere is any executive powers mentioned and rightly so.

Yet, from start to finish, confusion prevailed on that separation.

Barrett, for instance, was soon part of a three-person subcommittee which dealt with the circumstances of the managerial succession plan altered by Covid-19.

Perhaps that could be explained by the absence of the Football Management Committee operating beneath the board which was so central to the GRG report blueprint yet ultimately mothballed.

All elements of that GRG manifesto were interlinked, ensuring those independent directors sourced for other expertise like legal, HR and commercial weren't relied on to decide on issues such as hiring and firing of international managers.

More recently, his was the signature – not that of chief executive Jonathan Hill – that appeared at the foot of the letter issued to JACC Sports terminating their kit Contract.

Nor does the terms of reference specify the Chairperson - who is appointed, not elected - acting as spokesperson for the organisation.

It was quite ironic how dismayed he was at directors having an opinion on the senior Manager's tenure when he frequently airs his unflinching one publicly.

Lamenting aloud last Friday how results and job continuity are interdependent – from a person whose career was based on the bottom line – reinforced doubts held by some of his suitability to a football association.

But all those aside it is the business of procedures, structures and standards that are under the spotlight approaching Saturday.

In the turf was that is Irish football, Barrett was criticised by the League of Ireland fraternity for supposedly caving to the Schoolboys FAI (SFAI) last year when delaying the U14 national league but the major question for the weekend is how that affiliate were able to nominate their director at the December virtual gathering without due process.

The Electoral Code devised during Barrett's tenure spells out precisely the steps required and the outgoing supremo could do without a repeat deviation this time to Prevent civil unrest.

That's just one of the fires left to extinguish before duties in another sphere consume his thoughts but the quiet man is making quite a racket on his way out the door.

Douglas adds to Ireland's striker options as World Cup comes into focus

Aspiration will begin to become reality for the Irish women next month as their schedule kicks off geared solely towards the World Cup pinnacle in July.

A friendly abroad, followed by another in April, will build up to what the FAI plan as a major send-off fixture at the Aviva Stadium a few weeks before their opener against co-hosts Australia.

That’s the macro part of their journey. Discussion will also drill into what players will be on that flight to Brisbane, with only 20 outfield joining three goalkeepers after Fifa last month rejected a plea from England boss Sarina Wiegman to mirror the men’s format of 26.

Attack is the area shaping up to be the most competitive as a glut of contenders tussle with those that guided Vera Pauw’s side to a first-ever tournament.

Heather Payne should be joined by Hampden Park hero Amber Barrett as automatic picks, with Kyra Carusa enjoying such assured status, but beyond that the field is open for two, maximum three slots.

Possession is nine-tenths of the law for new Shamrock Rovers recruit Abbie Larkin, while Emily Whelan was also initially picked for the November friendly win in Morocco.

However, Saoirse Noonan and Whelan’s Glasgow City teammate Aoife Colvill — born in Australia — are in the mix, as are two newcomers. German-born Emily Kraft is operating at the same level as Noonan and Jarrett, in the English Championship. The Ireland U19 striker last weekend bagged the winner for Lewes at Southampton.

Another credible option is former Chelsea forward Nicole Douglas.

She was snapped up by US top-flight Washington Spirit in last week’s draft, a reflection of the explosive strides she made while playing for Arizona State University since moving Stateside.

Though born in England, whom she scored for against Ireland in the U17 European Championships almost six years ago, Douglas trained with the Ireland squad in March 2020 while Covid-19 restrictions prevented her travelling for the 2021 friendlies.

Tottenham run the rule over Rovers star Ferizaj as LOI movement cranks up

Transfer activity is abuzz with just under a month till the League of Ireland starts but teen star Justin Ferizaj could be departing.

The talented midfielder, who broke into the Shamrock Rovers team during their run to the Europa League group stages last season, is this week training with Tottenham Hotspur.

Several others Premier Leagues clubs were tracking the playmaker and Sampdoria offered a three-year deal but it's only since he turned 18 last weekend that an immediate UK move is possible.

Having penned his first professional deal with Rovers last July, the champions will command a hefty six-figure fee if he moves but Spurs may wait until he completes a training match on Friday to lodge a bid.

Fellow Ireland U19 international Sam Curtis is also in demand, with Newcastle United and Crystal Palace circling, but will likely spend the season at St Patrick's Athletic until he reaches the age permissible under Brexit rule.

The young defender will be joined at Inchicore by Jake Mulraney, back from the US outfit Orlando City on a two-year deal but Adam O'Reilly is likely to resist their offer of a return.

The midfielder, who also has interest from his hometown club Cork City, is being allowed to leave Preston North End ahead of his contract expiring in May but has options in England.

Dundalk's emerging defender Emmanuel Adegboyega (19) is attracting the attention of Palace, West Ham and Norwich City.

Longford Town boss Stephen Henderson, aided by assistant Gavin Peers, has recruited Shamrock Rovers duo Kieran Cruise and Cian Barrett with Ross Fay arriving from St Pat's.

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