How dream team can fill FAI coffers

If the incoming management team of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane represent a breath of fresh air to the Ireland players, then the FAI can expect to benefit financially by a gust of goodwill from the public and corporate sector.

It hasn’t taken long for the groundswell to gain traction.

What looked to be another hard sell for the cash-strapped association in Friday week’s friendly against Latvia at the Aviva Stadium has translated overnight into a historic occasion that every Irish football fan wants a piece of.

Only the visits of Argentina and Germany have attracted crowds close to sell-out since Lansdowne Road reopened for international football in 2010.

When Niall Quinn described his Sunderland manager at the time, Keane, as “box-office”, he knew the allure wasn’t confined to the Corkman carrying top billing.

Indeed, before kick-off in 10 days’ time, most eyes inside the Dublin 4 venue for the visit of the Baltic nation will train on the seat directly adjacent to the manager.

While the ordinary Irish supporter groggily attempts to escape the quicksand of the recession, they’ll find respite in the ‘Guaranteed Irish’ duet which Denis O’Brien’s cash helped deliver.

The bounce from the imminentappointment has enough potential to ripple, not least when the prospects of Euro 2016 qualification are surveyed.

O’Neill and Keane’s Ireland will most likely enter the draw in February as second seeds.

Under the expanded format, the top two nations from each group automatically qualify for France, while third spot clinches at least a play-off.

Not surprising, therefore, that the Boys in Green could be backed at 5/6 yesterday to feature amongst the top 24 European nations in 20 months’ time.

Having such inspirational characters at the wheel during a campaign with everything to play for until the conclusion will ensure the memories of top decks being closed inside the national stadium are soon forgotten.

Dwindling demand for watching games under Giovanni Trapattoni resulted in ticket prices plummeting to €20 per adult, leaving a major dent in the major driver of the FAI’s projected income streams.

Sports business industry experts, however, are forecasting a renewed interest in the happenings of the Ireland national team and, with it, rocketing revenues for the FAI.

Mick O’Keefe, managing director with Pembroke Communications, specialises in GAA, rugby and football commercial matters.

He feels the FAI may have secured the tonic badly needed to overhaul the game’s image in Ireland.

“Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane will be a huge draw for the FAI,” he said.

“We’re likely to move from a situation whereby the FAI would have found it difficult to give tickets away for free to filling the stadium under the new management.

“This has the potential to attract the floating fans back and, mostimportantly, the corporate sector to international matches. We’ve not really had the buzz of old for football matches since the stadium reopened, but that could soon change.

“There will be a goodwill factor there from the public, that’s for sure.”

Maximising investment from sponsors and advertisers is another probable byproduct for Irish football. Harnessing a debt of €60 million makes securing sponsorship from blue-chip companies all the more vital and the announcement by FAI chief executive John Delaney at July’s AGM that flagship backer, 3, has committed another €4m until 2016 supports that objective.

Qualification for France, if attained, nets another €8m, putting into context the value accruing to the FAI in dangling a combined €1m bonus in front of O’Neill and Keane for sealing the passage.

All told, the persuading by O’Brien, Dermot Desmond and the FAI of the pair to take on the task of reviving the nation’s fortunes could ultimately reap far-reaching yields for football at ground level.

At a time when the Airtricity League and the underage sector requires all the cash they can get to prosper, it would appear to be in the interest of everyone — players, fans and sponsors included — to embrace one of the boldest and bravest decisions in the history of Irish football.

An expensive one, too, but the mantra of spending to accumulate seems more apt than the last time the cheques were co-signed by the FAI and O’Brien.


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