MICHAEL CLIFFORD: OPINION: Why John Delaney brings tears to my eyes

FINE people have made this country great, but few can match John Delaney, the chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, who was in the news, again, last week, being unfairly pilloried, subjected to media intrusion, victimised.

Once more, pigmies were attempting to lay low a giant of the times.

Well, this column will not stand for it. Fearless advocacy is our business in this corner of the accursed media. Mr Delaney is obviously a superb administrator. This is evidenced not so much in anything he has done, but in the size of his salary. He is paid €350,000 per annum. Nobody in this country could pull in a wodge like that, as an administrator of a sports organisation, unless they were bordering on genius.

We know, based on salary scales, that we have had some of the finest bankers and politicians on the planet. Ergo, Mr Delaney, with a salary that is more than the combined stipends of Pauric Duffy and Philip Browne, his opposite numbers in GAA and rugby, respectively, must be in a different class to those two gents. This is not to suggest that Mssrs Duffy and Browne are anything but competent, sober, reflective individuals. But, with the greatest respect to both, they’re no John Delaneys.

Mr Delaney’s latest foray into controversy was a “slyly” taped episode in a public house fittingly called The Bath. In it, John is singing a song about the dead hunger striker, Joe McDonnell. The €350,000 ambassador for Irish football puts his heart and soul into the number, battling desperately against the cruelty of fate that left him with a brutal singing voice.

It is unclear how much, if any, drink had been taken. Once the video made it into the mainstream media, all hell broke loose. Some people felt that it was highly inappropriate for Mr Delaney to be singing in public about an IRA man, as he administers in a game often infected with sectarianism. Ok, there may have been a momentary lapse of high standards, but John has been at pains to point out that he abhors violence. (At this juncture, I must declare that one of my favourite songs is Bob Dylan’s ‘Idiot Wind’, which contains the lines, “they say I shot a man named Gray, and took his wife to Italy”. I want to make plain that I am not in favour of shooting anybody and I would never run away with a dead man’s wife).

But let’s just look at Mr Delaney’s record. There have been slight hiccups during his superb administration. A season ticket scheme for the Aviva stadium was a bit of a disaster. The recruitment of Steve Staunton as a cheap Irish manager was a bit of a disaster. (John should have known that you have to pay for real talent). The ticketing fiasco for the Scotland game, earlier this month, was a bit of a disaster, although, as John pointed out, blame for that lies with either an anonymous figure in the FAI, or the Scots. But apart from such a succession of cock-ups, he has been worth every cent of his €350,000. As he has said, on more than one occasion, other employers have approached him offering to match, or better, his salary, but loyalty keeps him with the FAI. He is a football man, content to accept whatever the FAI considers his worth.

The price for such loyalty has been occasional media intrusion. One recent episode was a hard-hitting documentary put together by the renowned investigative and entertainment reporter, Barry Egan. If Mr Egan was intent on digging up dirt, he emerged empty-handed. In the film, entitled John The Baptist, a succession of figures, from Denis O’Brien to Martin O’Neill to Eamon Dunphy, spoke glowingly about not just the administrator, but the man, the football man, the man of substance.

The most illuminating contribution came from John’s mother, Joan. “John is full of heart and he is soft,” she told the reporter. She related an occasion when an impoverished woman used to call to the Delaney home, looking for clothes. “One day, this woman came and I’d give her four or five bundles of stuff. She said, ‘I need a pair of shoes for my young fella’. And the next thing was, John, who was small, sat down, took off his shoes and handed them to the woman. He has a huge heart.” That testimony brought tears to my eyes. It also inferred that the title of the documentary had referenced the wrong Biblical figure. It should have been called, “Jesus Christ, Take A Look At This”. The vignette gave a hint of the man John was to become.

At the European Championships in Poland, in 2012, John famously lost a pair of his shoes. Is it possible that he gave away his shoes to somebody whom he felt could put them to better use? Somebody less fortunate than him? Somebody who wasn’t on €350,000 a year?

The previous year, after a match in Macedonia, John threw his tie into the crowds of Irish fans. Was this another act of charity, from the boy within the man? Does he impulsively give away items of clothing, on the basis that he knows that there are others out there more deserving of his clothes?

Truly, if John is Michael O’Leary in the day job, then he is Mother Teresa when he lets his hair down. There is one small cloud on the horizon. The business over the brutal singing led to two British newspapers receiving what are effectively threats of legal action. On Monday, the papers received a solicitor’s letter claiming that it wasn’t John doing the brutal singing. The letter to The Guardian stated: “My client’s position is simply that it is not him singing in the video. If you take the decision to publish, legal proceedings will follow, as it will undoubtedly cause various issues for my client.” Delaney has put it down to “some confusion by a third party”, which he was unable to resolve at the time because he was “travelling”. (How long was he in the air? Was he going barefoot at the time?)

Surely, John The Baptist wasn’t deliberately misleading — to put it at its most benign — about the video, and arranging for a media organ to be threatened with legal action on that basis? The honchos in the FAI aren’t worried about it. The association’s president, Tony Fitzgerald, issued a statement, saying John is fine by them, in or out of tune. Back in that hard-hitting documentary, John the Baptist explained how he had rescued the FAI in 2004. “There was a credibility issue,” he said. And, right now, between the singing, bogus legal threats, John the Baptist, the cock-ups, discarded clothing, and a ringing endorsement from the president, could credibility reach any higher?

Mr Delaney is a superb administrator ...as evidenced by the size of his salary


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