He may have his critics elsewhere but, within the confines of the Football of Ireland annual general meeting over the weekend, John Delaney was certainly king of the castle.
The chief executive of the organisation, who hatched a secretive hush-money deal with Fifa President Sepp Blatter and titled the only professional league under his association’s jurisdiction a “difficult child”, was hailed by his long-serving and loyal colleagues on the board throughout.
Towards the end of the two-hour gathering at the Hotel Minella, three delegates from the floor spoke glowingly about the work of Delaney, still being paid a hefty €360,000 per annum after two pay cuts. All three were from Connacht, a province that caters for just four junior leagues.
“We’d like to thank John Delaney for embellishing the image of Irish football,” said Gerry Tully from the Roscommon League, using an interesting verb given how the supremo’s controversies brought him infamy around Europe and further afield.
Tully was one of 99 of those present eligible to vote, not that there anything of significance voted upon. Under Delaney’s tenure, he’s ensured any rule changes are taken care of well in advance at a routine emergency general meeting staged on a weekday in Dublin.
That almost double that amount of delegates are qualified to attend, but choose not to, suggests a growing level of apathy.
Plenty of names listed amongst the apologies read out at the start of proceedings are regular absentees.
Not so in the upper echelons. Delaney frequently cites the board in justifying major decisions and that group has a familiar look to it. Half of the 10 members are still intact 13 years on from inception, with just one change in the current line-up from six years ago.
The retirement age was even raised to facilitate the continuance of some of the elder statesmen.
The recommendation all of 14 years ago from the Genesis Report that two independent “non-executive” directors be appointed remains unimplemented.
Constancy is also evident in the composition of panel entrusted with overseeing the League of Ireland. All but one of the five-man National League Executive Committee (NLEC) are in their 10th year of office.
It hardly represents cutting-edge corporate governance best practice, nor is it in keeping with the desire of the body representing players, the Players Football Association of Ireland (PFAI), to have “new blood” infused at the top.
Development officers, charged with fostering the game in parishes and communities around the country, are seeking restoration of the pay-cuts they suffered as their employer’s financial troubles worsened four years ago.
SIPTU recently hit out at an offer of just 3%, highlighting the €11m income derived from the recent European Championships as a means of coughing up.
Elsewhere, the League of Ireland sector which Delaney described in such stark terms two years ago is struggling to shake off the negativity associated with substandard facilities and paltry crowds.
A few hours after legislators left Tipperary on Saturday, just 460 spectators showed up for Longford Town’s game against Galway United in the Premier Division.
Bigger stories make July a rare positive month for the league in net terms, given the progress for Cork City and Dundalk in European competition.
But once those runs end, the novelty wears off and reality returns. City boss John Caulfield opined recently that the league hadn’t progressed in 40 years, strong words from a man with the experience and reputation to support his assertion.
As Delaney points out, only the commercial contribution of Denis O’Brien enables the FAI to pay for Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane.
The same concept applies outside of the international team. Investment drives progress and the domestic league are still awaiting their stimulus.
Much will depend on how the FAI’s debt position is handled. For all the benefits two refinancing deals in three years give, the association still owe a mammoth €40m.
In tandem with the borrowings rising, prize-money for the league tumbled to the point St Patrick’s Athletic manager Liam Buckley last year branded it “negligible”, and that was for winning the Premier Division title.
No such consternation visited Saturday’s procession. Those watching the top table kept their thoughts and questions to themselves, bar the outpouring of accolades in Delaney’s direction. Unlike the media, at least they had the option of posing queries to the hierarchy.
Aviva Club of the Year:
Best Feature, (Adrian Eames),
Best PRO :
Joseph McSweeney (Cork City Women’s FC),
Best Digital Initiative:
St Mochta’s FC.
Noel O’Reilly Coach of the Year:
Jeremy Dee Services To Women’s Football:
John Sherlock Services To Football:
Michael Halpin, Pat Henry, Dixie Currivan, Ian Barclay, Richie Friend,Michael Grace, Joe Hally, Jimmy Kelly, Jimmy Meaney, Gerry Smith.
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