There was a long-held perception in the Irish soccer community that the FAI were mismanaging their finances and that much-needed funding wasn’t ending up where it should.
Little did we know.
Although the full details are yet to be uncovered, it is now obvious from their pitiful display at the Oireachtas Committee for Sport that the FAI engaged in questionable financial activity – even beyond the outrageous salary and perks afforded to their beloved ex-Chief Executive/Executive Vice President, John Delaney.
As pressure on the association continued to mount, Delaney “stepped aside” on Monday, although the vast majority of us would prefer a bit more closure than that.
However, if the national media is anything to go by, he still has friends – albeit in some very low places.
As news broke two weeks ago of Delaney’s €100,000 “bridging loan” to his employers, a story that the embattled head of Irish soccer fought feverishly to injunct, the Secretary of the Kerry District League, John O’Regan, quickly sprang to his defence.
O’Regan, who is a member of the FAI Senior Council and a personal friend of Delaney’s, appeared on national television to support his stricken comrade. He even went so far as to say that Delaney should be “running the country”.
Last week, Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae also professed his admiration for Delaney in a tough-to-watch performance before the Oireachtas Committee, claiming that the former FAI boss would receive “the mother of all welcomes” when he comes to Kerry next month to open Castleisland AFC’s new pitch.
Politicians who appeared at the committee were ostensibly there to grill Delaney. Considering the circumstances, Healy-Rae’s obsequiousness seemed more than a little out of place.
Both O’Regan, supposedly representing the KDL and its members, and Healy-Rae, supposedly representing Kerry and his constituents, claimed that Delaney was a great friend to Kerry soccer. Kerry soccer wouldn’t be where it is today were it not for Delaney, they cried.
I’ll tell you a thing or two about Kerry soccer.
Around 10 clubs in Kerry have good facilities. Most clubs have poor facilities or no facilities at all. Some clubs still don’t have changing rooms, for example, and too many pitches are borderline dangerous (even in fine weather). The vast majority of “new” clubs (of which there are plenty) have to play all of their home games at the KDL’s own pitch, Mounthawk Park in Tralee.
My own club, Killarney Athletic, struggled for over a decade to get funding for an all-weather pitch, despite our status as a relatively big club with a large membership in a major town. We finally got a training field last year, and it’s great to have it, but when it rains heavily we will struggle to keep our main pitch playable.
The bottom line is that we need more full-size, all-weather surfaces in Kerry, like the one Celtic have here in Killarney.
The way O’Regan, who has been in his current role since 1976, and his friends at the KDL speak about Delaney, you’d swear he was the Robin Hood of Irish football.
It should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway: the money that filters down from the FAI to build pitches in Kerry is specifically meant for that exact purpose. That’s what the FAI is for. Well, that’s what it’s supposed to be for anyway. Another important point to note is that a lot of our funding comes directly from the government, not the FAI.
When it does come from the FAI, John Delaney showing up with an oversized novelty cheque isn’t an act of charity. It’s the CEO of an association doing his job, a job for which he was extremely well compensated over a very long period of time.
Unless, of course, O’Regan and Healy-Rae are suggesting that Delaney, who used to reside in Tralee, channelled money down to Kerry when it should have rightfully gone elsewhere?
And another thing, while I have you. If Delaney has left Kerry soccer in such great shape, and the league’s headquarters have been paid for in full (which I believe they have), how can O’Regan and co. continue to justify charging players admission into their own games at Mounthawk Park?
In 2017, they tried to charge us a fiver a head walking through the gate of a league final in which we were actually playing. Think about that for a second. Hundreds of paying customers heading back to Tralee to watch a final between two Killarney teams (we would have happily played in Celtic Park, by the way) and the league had the cheek to charge the players admission.
In the end, our chairman Mike O’Shea intervened and the club kindly forked over the entrance fee on our behalf.
Imagine if Legion or Crokes were playing in a county final above in the Park and they tried to charge the players at the gate. There would be holy war. But because it’s Kerry soccer, it’s somehow okay?
And where is our admission money going exactly? Paying for the floodlights? I’ll tell you a good one about the floodlights in Mounthawk Park while I have you.
Last season we were playing Dingle in a league game back there (Dingle also play some home games in Tralee). The game was on a weekday evening and as kick-off approached, it was already getting dark. It wasn’t too bad as the game started but 20 minutes in, visibility was dangerously low. I approached the ref and asked him what the story was with the lights.
“He’s putting them on at half-time,” he said.
“Can he not put them on now?”
The ref shrugged. He knew as well as we did that it was too dark to play but what could he do? At half-time, we waited for the lights to come on. No sign. Whoever had their finger on the switch was waiting for us to physically walk from the sideline back onto the pitch before turning them on. Jesus, it was sad.
And as soon as the match ended, the lights went off. We had to collect our personal belongings from the side of the pitch* and walk back to the clubhouse in the dark.
*Teams don’t leave their gear in the dressing rooms at Mounthawk Park for security reasons.
This is what we, as players, are dealing with.
When he came to Kerry to open Mounthawk Park in 2015, John Delaney made reference to the controversial €5 million payment the FAI received from FIFA to abandon their proposed legal action over the Thierry Henry handball affair.
The FAI tried to keep that hush money very hush-hush indeed and when fans found out about it, they were justifiably furious. It appeared as though the FAI had simply been bought off without telling its members what had transpired. But for Delaney, it was just another gas story to tell.
“I got five million off Blatter,” he joked. “If we had sent John O’Regan, we’d have got ten!”
This attitude typifies everything that’s wrong with the FAI and, by extension, Kerry soccer. This “cute hoor” culture prevails and the people in power are more interested propping up their pals than looking out for the people they’re supposed to represent.
Delaney and his cronies in Merrion Square have finally been found out. As far as I’m concerned, all of the Kerrymen who backed him on our behalf should be ashamed.