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Dublin: 23 °C Monday 22 July, 2019

Why Delaney's 'parish pump' political style has won him support around the country

However, the fact that the FAI boss has visited 2,000 clubs isn’t relevant to the issues up for discussion at an Oireachtas committee hearing next week, writes John O’Sullivan.

Delaney (left) with Lord Mayor of Cork Declan Hurley (centre) and FAI president Tony Fitzgerald (right) at last year's Festival of Football.
Delaney (left) with Lord Mayor of Cork Declan Hurley (centre) and FAI president Tony Fitzgerald (right) at last year's Festival of Football.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

STATEMENTS SUPPORTING JOHN Delaney are everywhere this past fortnight, shared with a uniformity of message that has led some to joke authors are working from a template.

More serious are claims the letters are from individuals, not reflecting the organisations represented.

Limerick FC’s Pat O’Sullivan and Waterford FC’s Lee Power, chairmen who have earned the right to speak on behalf of their clubs — whether fans like it or not — have released statements in support of Delaney and have been slated on Twitter and Facebook.

The statements are sent and the social media backlash simply won’t register for the majority of the authors. Rather than dismissing the emails as North Korean style propaganda, it’s important to simply recognise the fact that John Delaney is hugely popular across many levels of Irish football and this is understandable.

Touring the FAI AGM around the country and turning it into a Festival of Football was – and is – a brilliant initiative. For the majority of clubs who’ve never produced senior international players, exposure to Ray Houghton, Keith Andrews and Ronnie Whelan is huge to people who have given their life to their local club.

Journalists joke about the amount of times Delaney will be seen on the five-minute video showcasing each Festival of Football, but watching those videos in that frame of mind is to miss the genuine happiness on the faces of those around him at each event.

It’s not his presence per se, but the buzz, the media, the photographers, the internationals and the fun the festival brings. It might only be for an hour — but for that hour — that club is front and centre, maybe for the first time.

Pat O'Sullivan Limerick FC chairman Pat O'Sullivan has been among those to come out in support of Delaney. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The local GAA club can produce inter-county players to hand out medals at an U10 blitz, the local soccer club is largely starved of access to heroes who play on a national stage. The cheques dished out on these tours can be viewed cynically but they’re invaluable to the small clubs who struggle year on year.

You can justifiably call it ‘parish pump’ politics, you can rightly point out that’s
it’s not Delaney’s own money being handed out, but that’s not the point and it is how Ireland works.

Delaney visiting 2,000 clubs during this tenure is equivalent to a TD canvassing 2,000 homes before an election. Chats will be had, gripes heard, notes taken and support offered. Photo opportunities will be plentiful. If the potholes are fixed or the new goalposts secured, credit is given.

People who have been well served by the FAI under Delaney’s tenure will see John Treacy speaking at an Oireachtas committee and not care. Sure, he was a marathon runner. What has he ever done for us? When did he last attend a soccer match? Has he ever been at one?

That Sport Ireland govern and fund the FAI to the tune of millions each year gets lost in the noise if your club needs a fundraiser and the right email can get you Mick McCarthy to speak at an event.

We can decry apparent small-mindedness, the lack of ‘big picture thinking’ but what we’re talking about are people largely volunteering as best they can at a local level, with their own versions of the problems we see where our interests lie.

They see Delaney turning up for a local third division game – as he did in Cashel last Sunday – and they see a football man, one of their own. Their statements make reference to the family time he’s missing, giving up his weekend. A busman’s holiday, working in football all week, but still relaxing with it at the weekend, chatting with them.

I’ve been in Delaney’s company and he’s likeable. He can be charismatic, does love the game and is genuinely knowledgeable about it. He’s easy to talk to and generous with compliments and giving credit. On a personal level, I’d say I like him far more than he likes me.

I’ve had arguments with him about the League of Ireland and I’ve been hugely critical of some FAI actions under his tenure. But I can also appreciate his attendance at a FORAS Hall of Fame fundraiser in 2009 at a time when we were at odds with the then owner of Cork City FC, it was a stance he didn’t have to make. I even have a photo with him from that event myself.

On a very basic level, what niggles at the back of my head are those photos you always see when Delaney visits clubs. The volunteer beside the paid administrator with the public profile. In statements last week, both Limerick FC and Cahir Park FC — the latter shared by Irish Sun journalist Owen Cowzer — made reference to the family time that Delaney gives up, as though football was a hobby outside of work, when it is his work.

He’s not a volunteer and volunteers should be unburdened of the idea that the near €1,000 per calendar day Delaney was being paid by the FAI is not enough to recompense the lost family time he gives. Time volunteers give themselves — often for little more than a thank you.

I tweeted during the week about the time I give to my local grassroots club where I coach. Outside my own job and family time, last week I gave at least sixteen hours across six days coaching, at matches, at workshops and lining pitches. That’s before the interactions with parents, the organising, the emailing, washing kit and all the other things in the background that occupy every single volunteer in the country.

JOS tweet Source: Twitter/johngosullivan

I’m not even one of the busier volunteers at my own club, there’s committee members with additional duties and who sit on local schoolboys’ committees and coach at county level alongside their club volunteering. Not one minute of it is paid.

John Delaney is a paid employee of the FAI board. Any CEO (or EVP) of an organisation with a €50 million revenue cannot expect it to be a nine to five job and, to be fair to Delaney, he does put in hours.

However, when football is your passion and also your job, the game has to change.
You can enjoy football chats with people you admire, listen in amazement to their stories and experiences. You can be the last person to leave the fundraiser, making sure everyone has had a good night, you can be genuine in every compliment you pay those around you.

However, when you’re paid to oversee and govern an organisation your affability, charisma and football knowledge aren’t the indicators against which your performance is measured.

There’s a lot being written and said about the FAI and Delaney these days, he’s neither all villain nor all hero, but his attendance at your field opening funded by sports capital grants has nothing to do with the matters under discussion regarding governance of the FAI by the Oireachtas committee, and vice versa.

Gavan Casey and Ryan Bailey are joined by Bernard Jackman to look back on a thrilling weekend of European rugby on the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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