Ireland legend Packie Bonner has spoken for the first time about his abrupt exit from the FAI in 2010 — admitting the prospect of staying on as a football ambassador was a non-starter for him.
Bonner’s 30-year service to the association as player, senior team goalkeeping coach and, lastly, head of overall development in the country made it natural for an ambassadorial role to be mooted for him when the unexpected cull from the Technical Director’s position came.
The Donegal man admits, however, he’d no interest in following Ray Houghton and Paul McGrath onto the part-time circuit, where posing for photographs at AGMs and pressing the flesh with prospective Premium ticket buyers figures highly in the brief.
John Delaney, the FAI’s chief executive, cited the presence of High Performance Director Wim Koevermans — a Dutchman Bonner had helped recruit in 2008 — as justification for one of the gurus to leave when the squeeze was being applied to the association’s finances.
During the three years since, Bonner has kept a dignified silence on the hurt caused by his sacking from an organisation he was being tipped by many to eventually spearhead as chief executive.
Ireland’s stopper from three of the five major tournaments they’ve ever reached has reflected on why a ceremonial role didn’t appeal and whether the then Minister of Sport, Culture and Tourism Mary Hanafin was right at the time in declaring Bonner was hard done by with the FAI’s decision.
“My line on that is that I’ve always been an ambassador for Irish football, so there was no need for me to do it officially,” said the 53-year-old, who has since worked as a TV pundit.
“I’ve always promoted football, home and abroad, and will continue to do so. Only a couple of weeks ago, I hosted a reunion event with Shay Given in Donegal as part The Gathering for all of the 56 players from the county that went to play in the UK.”
When it was put them that an ambassador’s role would have harmed his prospects of new employment in club football, Bonner said: “No, it didn’t come in it. It never crossed my mind.”
Asked if his axing was justified for the reasons given, in an era when a huge overhaul of grassroots football is required in this country, the 80-times capped Bonner didn’t adopt the party line. “People can make up your own mind about whether it was or not,” he says.
“I could have thrown the toys out of the pram when Wim Koevermans was appointed but my philosophy was you’ll learn from people like this. I was part of the process of bringing him in because the FAI wanted to create a new position of High Performance Director.
“I had the opportunity to contribute to the FAI and worked damn hard, making big sacrifices in my family life. My daughter was 13 when I started and 21 when it finished. She went through her teens and you’re not around enough of the time (his family stayed in Scotland while he worked in Ireland). That’s the game we’re in and I have no regrets whatsoever.”
It’s the belief of the former Celtic goalkeeper that, should one role be retained at the expense of the other, it needs to the Technical Director. Ruud Dokter has since taken over the High Performance function in succession to fellow Dutchman Koevermans, who left the FAI last year. “I’m not so sure about this High Performance Director role; it came out of other sports like cricket or hockey,” claims Bonner. “I feel the technical director should be in charge of everything — as Brian Kerr was before me.”
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