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FAI chief Hill targets World Cup wins and opens up on 'emotion' of Irish football

Chief executive says he will push government hard to have 25,000 fans in Aviva Stadium for games against Azerbaijan and Serbia which he admits ‘Ireland have to win’.

Hill was speaking to Athlone Town’s LOI TV stream.
Hill was speaking to Athlone Town’s LOI TV stream.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Updated Jul 29th 2021, 5:00 PM

JONATHAN HILL HAS opened up on his whirlwind start to life as the FAI chief executive, describing how his first seven and a half months at the helm “feels like seven and a half years”.

The Londoner, who spent a decade on and off working for the English FA before succeeding the disgraced John Delaney, explained how he has experienced a “different level of intensity and emotion” within the Irish game.

Speaking to Athlone Town’s LOI TV stream, Hill also provided clarity on a number of other issues, including his hopes to have 25,000 fans in Aviva Stadium for September’s World Cup qualifiers against Azerbaijan and Serbia, which he described as “two games we have to win”.

And he also aims to have a full house in Dublin for the visit of Portugal later this year, admitting he would love Stephen Kenny’s side to beat them and lay down a marker.

“I’ve settled in well. It’s everything I expected it to be, and more. My seven, seven-and-a-half months feels like seven-and-a-half years, if I’m honest,” Hill began.

“That’s only because I have spent so much time chatting to a whole range of people across the whole of the Irish football community. It’s been fascinating. I was 10 years on and off at the English FA and the challenges, opportunities and disciplines if you like around the game in Ireland are no different than those in England.

“At times they are just a different level, certainly a different level of intensity and emotion at times, I’ve found. There’s no lack of emption in the Irish game, which I love personally. People have very strong opinions everywhere in football and Ireland is no different.

“We’ve made really good progress with return to watch in terms of our League of Ireland clubs,” Hill continued. “That’s worked really well. We can now have a conversation with government about getting some pretty serious numbers of fans back in for the September games.

“I’m hopeful that we can get 20, 25,000 in for Azerbaijan and Serbia because arguably they are the two games we have to win. I’m not worried about filling the stadium in November for Portugal because I think there is a real built up desire for fans to get back and watch football, and if you’ve got a dollop of Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes in all that I think you will be pretty happy to be a season ticket holder.

“What I want and what I am pushing government hard for is to have a full house against Portugal because whatever we’ve got to in terms of qualification, I’d love us to go and beat them and show that we are ready to go for the next stage, which will be the Nations League and beyond that Euro 2024.”

The FAI CEO also expressed his desire to see League of Ireland clubs progress in Europe this season, and set them the target of improving the league’s co-efficient, which is currently ranked 37th but due to drop from next season.

Dundalk’s Europa Conference League second qualifying round second leg tie away to Levadia Tallinn this evening (5.30pm) is in the balance after a 2-2 draw at Tallaght Stadium, while Bohemians have a 1-0 lead as F91 Dudelange face them in front of 8,000 fans at Aviva Stadium at 7.45pm.

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Along with Shamrock Rovers, who received a bye into the third round and will face Teuta of Albania, Hill is hopeful of positive outcomes with places in the play-off round worth €1 million to each club.

“Dundalk have made it harder for themselves in that second leg but from what I saw [in the first leg] there is no reason why they can’t go there and win. Bohs done brilliantly in their first leg and you would be really positive and confident that in front of 8,000 people, and the tickets were sold out in 90 minutes, so I would be really confident that they can win again.”

He added: “We’ve already gone up three places on the back of the results in the last few weeks and I would like to see us back in the 30s, not in the 40s, and striving to get into the 20s in due course. That’s a big challenge but I think everyone in Irish football will want those teams to do well.”

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