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FAI's handling of 'Videogate' led to Damien Duff's exit from Irish backroom staff

Duff has made an abrupt exit from the Irish camp, though it’s not thought he has any issue with Stephen Kenny.

Damien Duff.
Damien Duff.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IRISH FOOTBALL HAS again been shaken by a late-night FAI statement, this time the announcement that Damien Duff had decided to walk away from his role in Stephen Kenny’s backroom team. 

The brief statement gave no reason for Duff’s exit, but it is understood Duff’s issue was with the FAI rather than with Stephen Kenny, problems that arose amid the handling of the ‘Videogate’ saga in November. 

Duff remains in his position as Head Coach as Shelbourne’s U17s and has not left the FAI to immediately take up a different job, in spite of speculation linking him with returns to Celtic and Chelsea. 

Kenny was given the opportunity to pick his own backroom staff when the succession plan was accelerated last April. He promoted Keith Andrews from the U21s as his assistant and brought in Duff as his number three, a position previously held by Robbie Keane. 

While the FAI came to a settlement with Mick McCarthy and his assistant Terry Connor, they have not reached an agreement with Keane, who remains under contract to this day, drawing a reported annual salary of €250,000. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Champions League coverage in August, Duff said the sole reason he took the job was to work with Kenny, whom he described as one of the few “trustworthy” people he knew in Irish football. 

“I never had an urge to go and work with the FAI, not even one per cent of me. That’s because of things gone on in the past that everyone knows about. It’s all down to Stephen Kenny.

“Anyone that’s met him knows that he is a trustworthy guy, you can get that straight away. There’s not many trustworthy football people in Ireland, if I’m brutally honest. His passion, his vision, his plan just excited me. 

“I want to help him, I want to help the players, and I want to help any young player in the country. That’s why I’ve gotten involved with Shelbourne as well. I’m back, you’re stuck with me. Hopefully the FAI will be stuck with me for a while, but it’s all down to Stephen Kenny.” 

Ultimately the FAI haven’t been “stuck” with him for very long: Duff has left just eight months into Kenny’s reign. 

Though results have been extremely poor – no wins in eight games, with just one goal scored – sources told The42 there was no indication Duff was considering an exit as the November international window concluded. 

The turning point was the FAI’s handling of the ‘videogate’ saga. 

The UK Daily Mail reported days after Ireland’s final international game of the year that some players were left shocked by the political nature of a video and team-talk presented to players in the Wembley dressing room ahead of a friendly defeat to England. 

The Mail’s story included a statement issued by the FAI media department, saying they were aware of “issues surrounding content” shared with the team ahead of the game, and were looking into it “as a matter of urgency, in order to establish the facts.”

Outgoing CEO Gary Owens held one-on-one interviews with approximately 12 people involved in the situation, after which the FAI concluded Kenny had no case to answer and said the matter was closed. 

The fall-out, however, has yet to relent. 

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Duff was among those interviewed by Owens and gave a forceful defence of Kenny, threatening to quit if Kenny was forced to apologise for the video. 

stephen-kenny-with-keith-andrews-and-damien-duff Damien Duff, Stephen Kenny, and Keith Andrews. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The motivational video was a three-minute montage splicing together previous Irish goals against England with scenes from Anglo-Irish history, including the 1916 Rising. 

Stephen Kenny last month dismissed the video as a “non-issue”, and while satisfied the leaking of information did not come from his players or staff, said there may be people “behind the scenes or elsewhere” intent on damaging his team. 

A day later, Duff appeared as a pundit on RTÉ and mocked the reaction to the video. 

“It’s obviously up to us staff not to make any motivational videos. Even if they are based on true historical events, Irish events that you should be proud of. They can be very offensive to some people, so we’ll stay away from that in March.” 

Speaking less than a fortnight ago, FAI Chairperson Roy Barrett said the issue was blown out of proportion in the press, but when it was put to him that much of the media scrutiny was driven by the Association’s initial statement, Barrett said, “I can see that. I’m not denying it.” 

That the FAI issued a statement with such alacrity on the issue was out of character: they rarely comment on the record regarding off-field matters. 

Duff has now decided to walk away. Those who have worked with Duff describe him as headstrong, single-minded and highly principled, and it is out of those traits he has acted this week. 

Kenny and his management team are understood to have learned about Duff’s decision two days ago, and the statement issued by the FAI last night announcing the news caught all parties unawares, as it was sent out early to get ahead of the story breaking in the media over the weekend. 

This is not the first time Duff has left a coaching role at the FAI – he was once involved with the Republic of Ireland U15s – but this is a far higher profile exit, and one that will bring renewed scrutiny on the FAI’s handling of the videogate affair. 

Duff is a considerable loss to Kenny’s set-up – he was very popular among the players – and is also a loss to the FAI. He completed his Pro Licence coaching course through the FAI – the FAI’s Head of Coaching Education, Niall O’Regan, described Duff to The42 “as the best-case example of a modern coach” – and was highly-thought of across the Association, with one senior figure considering him as a potential Technical Director of the FAI in the future. 

In the short-term, Kenny must now replace Duff ahead of the World Cup qualifiers in March, with the opening game away to second seeds Serbia a potentially defining game. 

Promoting a figure from the underage coaching ranks is a possibility, as Ruadhri Higgins is unlikely to be moved from his current role as Chief Scout and Opposition Analyst.

Though he remains under contract, there is no chance Robbie Keane will be returned to the role. 

The FAI declined to comment. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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