Financial strain adds to pressure on O’Neill

Instead of providing answers on the Football Association of Ireland’s financial outlook, Saturday’s AGM in Arklow only served to raise further questions on the matter.

Delegates attending the annual summit at the Radisson Blu Hotel were required to lodge queries relating to the accounts for 2013 with the association no later than seven days beforehand.

Those documents had shown the FAI to be €50m in debt, despite the successful writedown of €11.7m achieved by switching lenders late during the year.

As the association opted against staging the traditional post-AGM press conference for the second successive year, media submitted a dozen questions to the press department not confined, but mostly relating to its finances. No answers were forthcoming as of last night.

What is established as fact is the FAI’s plan to use its guaranteed €10m per annum income from the Uefa’s centralised TV rights deal to chip away at its liabilities. Of less certainty is the time-frame within which the debt is to be cleared.

Previous AGMs had been dominated by predictions from the podium of achieving debt-free status by 2020, but this oft-quoted declaration was conspicuously absent during the 90-minute summit.

Contained in the accounts is confirmation that at least €26.5m will be still owing by 2019, placing a major question mark over the 2020 forecast.

“It’s a bit like having a €200,000 mortgage and all of a sudden you got a windfall,” Delaney told Midlands FM last week, the ‘windfall’ in this case being the writedown.

“Do you clear the debt or do you spend it on any aspects of your family that you’d like to? We can clear the debt in 2020 if we want to.”

Following a week during which all League of Ireland participants in European competition departed their respective competitions before July was over, the need to invest in the domestic game has never been more acute.

Increasing a static prize pot or restoring the Club Promotions Officer grants would be music to the ears of League of Ireland clubs, if that forms part of Delaney’s alternative in pushing out the previously stated debt-free deadline.

Still, how that option would save the association on interest payments — currently €17m and counting — is unclear in the absence of details. It has yet to be clarified, for example, if the €50m capital sum is still being serviced only by interest.

One item that is now crystal clear is the consigning to the bin of the ill-fated Vantage Club 10-year premium ticket scheme.

Quite why it took four years from the point tickets priced up to €32,000 were pitched to the corporate sector to be discarded remains a mystery. Into the place of Vantage comes ‘Club Ireland’, a venture setting the prices on the premium level 85% lower at €4,933.

The latest sales drive, unveiled with the help of Ireland’s management team of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane last week at the BG Theatre in Dublin, includes extra frills like an ‘exclusive evening with Martin and Roy’.

Surveying the latest accounts and observing rows of empty green seats for home internationals over recent years heightens the importance of O’Neill and Keane guiding Ireland to the finals of Euro 2016.

Delaney emphasises that the FAI doesn’t factor qualification bonuses into their forecasts. But the thrust of his remarks suggest nothing less than securing a place in France will suffice.

“I’ve got to be confident [about qualifying] because we don’t appoint Martin O’Neill and Roy just to make up the numbers,” asserted Delaney on radio.

“We appointed them to qualify.

“The Irish public expect us to qualify and the rules have changed that there’s 24 teams going to the Euros instead of 16.

“It’s a difficult group with the World champions Germany in there along with Scotland and Poland. But on our chances out of 10, you’ve got to say eight.

“I’m quite calm about it now but, trust me, when we got to Tbilisi in September for our first qualifier, the nerves won’t be great.”

One can realise why.


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