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Dublin: 10 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019

Shane Ross loses his stand-off with the FAI at an AGM that doesn't mention John Delaney once

Donal Conway swept to re-election at the Association’s meeting, but Vice-President Noel Fitzroy fell on his sword.

Donal Conway addresses the 2019 FAI AGM.
Donal Conway addresses the 2019 FAI AGM.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

HE SWAGGERED IN from the edge of nowhere to knock a few heads together at a flailing organisation while warning its custodians they’d soon be out of the job – let’s call this exasperating drama Glengarry Shane Ross

The Minister for Sport has bumbled into this scene with his own ‘ABC’ mantra, too – Anyone But Conway. 

The FAI, famed for their imperviousness, thus went and elected Donal Conway as President at yesterday’s AGM at the Knightsbrook Hotel in Trim. 

He ran unopposed, and just five delegates voted against him. 

Conway left the room for the vote, and then returned to rapturous applause.

Ross did get one head on a plate, however. Vice-president Noel Fitzroy withdrew his nomination just before the vote, gruffly reading a statement in which he said he had been left in an “impossible position”, and so decided to withdraw his name to avoid “further crisis.”

After a ballot, Paul Cooke was elected to the position.

Fitzroy said the decision was “devastating to me personally”, and having frozen his face in stolid resolution before his speech, he returned to his seat looking bereft.

Cooke said that Fitzroy went up in his estimation for falling upon his sword; Conway told the room that “we should all ensure Noel has a considerable and significant role in football going forward.”

He later admitted that Fitzroy may yet try to run for the new Football Management Committee at the FAI, which is second in power only to the Board.

Fitzroy had to walk the plank because of decisions taken earlier in the day. The sizeable schoolboys’ constituency voted to put John Earley back on the Board, despite the fact he resigned from it six weeks ago.

The Governance Review Group’s report is how Conway is defying Ross’ demands that he quit, given it recommended that no more than two of the present Board go forward for “transition purposes.”

Conway said that the report may be “calibrated and finessed” along the way, and it already has – Earley is back in the fold because of a concession that allowed the sizeable schoolboys’ constituency elect someone straight to the Board. 

When the Ross questions were raised afterward, Conway said that he is merely “honouring the report”, and then took on a presidential air. “At any juncture talking about Minister Ross”, soothed Conway, “I’ve always held out an olive branch.”

Don’t expect Ross to grab it.

Having remained mute longer than almost everybody else, Ross strode triumphantly into the Oireachtas in April, Conway’s letter promising the Board would leave slung proudly across his shoulder like the spoils of war.

Now two of the eight remain, saying they’ll honour a report over which one of them has already resigned in protest.

Ross’ quandary was summed up by the presence at the AGM of a couple of Uefa officials along with a representative from Fifa. They met with Ross last night, to once again remind him that government meddling in the FAI’s affairs could have some serious ramifications indeed.


Noel Fitzroy Noel Fitzroy tells delegates he is standing down. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

These officials were warmly welcomed by interim General Manager Noel Mooney, who stressed that “at the hour of our need”, Fifa and Uefa had stepped in “and are caring for us.”

Mooney is on a six-month secondment from Uefa, but earlier this week he seemed to leave the door slightly ajar for an extension on that stay. Here, he made a point of welcoming “my former – and future! – colleagues from Uefa.”

There has, in fairness, been some change. Vocal critics of the previous regime – Cooke and Dave Moran – will now sit on the Board, with Cooke acknowledging this would have been unthinkable even six months ago.

Plus, for the first time in eons, there was the first small hint of dissent from the floor. One delegate stood up stressing two words – “Forensic. Audit.” – and that without one “we might be back in ten years singing the same aul’ song.”

Paul McLoone of Finn Harps stood up to say that he is unconvinced by the extent of the change – “I’m not sure this was such a good day.” 

With no audited accounts available for the first time ever, the meeting was adjourned after Cooke’s election.

The AGM is the culmination of the FAI’s Festival of Football, in which they tour football clubs across a county with a few grants and famous faces in tow. Mooney acknowledged that, despite the FAI’s troubles, they were still capable of “churning out great festivals of football.” What a curious kind of resilience. 

The Chair of Meath County Council was welcomed to the stage, and he thanked the Irish manager for his generosity over the last week. “If there’s a family in Meath without a picture with Mick McCarthy this week, then they must have been away on holidays.”

He did end with a joke that he always felt McCarthy’s every second touch was a tackle. Truly, no wide-scale process of reform at the FAI is complete without someone taking a dig at Mick’s ability as a player.

There were a raft of apologies from those who couldn’t be there, including one from Honorary Life President Denis O’Brien.

The most significant absentee, however, wasn’t mentioned by name once throughout the whole meeting.

John Delaney John Delaney. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He was missing from the Festival’s highlights video, a film to which he was once so integral that some members of the media made a tradition of wagering how many times he would made an appearance.

His address from the 2018 AGM – during which he proclaimed the FAI’s structures and practices as being “of the highest professional standards” – was disseminated to delegates but never quoted.

His infamous Oireachtas appearance was briefly brought to mind when Donal Conway at one point inviting delegates to take a “comfort break.” 

But the name passed nobody’s lips. 

John Delaney has exited stage left, and now Shane Ross is left bemoaning the fact that everybody didn’t follow him. 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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