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Delaney critic Paul Cooke takes interim charge of the FAI

The crisis-hit Association had been left without a leader following John Foley’s last-minute decision not to take the job.

Paul Cooke, the latest Executive Lead at the FAI.
Paul Cooke, the latest Executive Lead at the FAI.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Updated Dec 3rd 2019, 6:06 PM

CHARTED ACCOUNTANT AND FAI Vice President Paul Cooke is to take up a temporary role as Executive Lead of the Association amid a leadership vacuum at the Association, as first reported today by the Irish Independent

The FAI was yesterday left without a CEO after John Foley declined the role of interim CEO at the last-minute, after Noel Mooney’s six-month secondment from Uefa ended on Sunday. 

Cooke will now take the lead for the next couple of weeks, until the four independent directors – one of whom will act as Chair – are appointed to the FAI board. 

Until then, Cooke will be based in Abbottstown and will report to President Donal Conway, acting chair of the board. 

In a statement released by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport this evening, it was reiterated that government funding will not return to the FAI until the appointment of independent directors and an independent CEO.

“The ministers note media reports regarding the appointment of Paul Cooke as executive lead at the FAI,” it reads.

“As has been stated repeatedly, and most recently yesterday, Ministers Ross and Griffin believe the most urgent priorities for the FAI should be the appointment of the four independent directors, the independent Chairperson, and the filling of the CEO vacancy, whether on an interim or full time basis.

“Various stakeholders will continue to be concerned until such time as the Board and the Executive are led by completely independent people without any prior or present involvement with the FAI.

We look forward to an early appointment of an independent CEO following a thorough process. Government funding cannot be restored until such independent directors and an independent CEO are in place.”

Cooke is a noted critic of the John Delaney era, having worked with Delaney at Waterford United during the 1990s. He was among few members of the FAI Council to ask dissenting questions at the AGM during Delaney’s tenure as CEO, and in 2009 quizzed the Board in relation to an unexplained figure of €5.2 million included in those accounts, recorded as “exceptional costs” relating to the Aviva Stadium.

He is also understood to have led the FAI’s severance negotiations with Delaney in recent months. 

Away from football, Cooke is a chartered accountant and is a former Managing Director of The Star and the Sunday Business Post newspapers.

Cooke was nominated to be run unopposed for the role of FAI Treasurer in May, and when that role was abolished by the Association’s governance reforms, he was instead elected to the role of Vice-President. 

He steps into the role a day after the FAI were rocked by the news that Foley would not be assuming the role on an interim basis. Foley attributed his decision to a lack of support from FAI stakeholders, and FAI sources say opposition to his appointment did not come from within the Association. 

A statement from Ministers Ross and Brendan Griffin yesterday noted Foley’s decision to decline the role, and emphasised that the new FAI CEO “should be completely independent of any present or previous involvement in the FAI.”

Foley did not fit that description, as in 2007 he was nominated by John Delaney as an independent director to the League of Ireland National Executive. Minister Ross has insisted he wants an entirely clean sweep of the FAI, and has consistently criticised Donal Conway’s continuing as president until July 2020.

Cooke now takes charge, and becomes the fourth person to perform the lead executive role at the FAI in 2019, following Delaney, Rea Walshe and Noel Mooney. He is the third to do so on an explicitly interim basis. 

Cooke and Conway will host a press conference on Thursday, following the long-delayed publishing of the FAI’s accounts for 2018. Cooke has warned that the figures will cause shock. 

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Gavin Cooney

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