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'We've always gotten the sense that power in Irish football rests in one man... That's not a healthy situation'

RTÉ pundit Richie Sadlier has criticised the FAI and backed the fans’ right to protest.

FORMER IRELAND INTERNATIONAL and RTÉ pundit Richie Sadlier backed fans’ right to express themselves after an anti-Football Association of Ireland tennis ball protest disrupted tonight’s Aviva Stadium Euro 2020 qualifier between the hosts and Georgia.

While Ronnie Whelan, Damien Duff and James McClean have been among those to criticise the tennis-ball protest, Sadlier felt those who are unhappy were entitled to express themselves in the manner that they did and called for change within the FAI.

“They’ve had banners taken from them as they go to home grounds and away grounds so they can’t express themselves at all,” he said.

“The Duffer’s point that it added three minutes [of stoppage time] — it didn’t. It just delayed the re-start to the game by three minutes.

“There are lots of legitimate reasons for [the tennis ball protest]. This weekend we had the Taoiseach asking for some clarity, we had SIPTU weigh in on behalf of their members — employees in the FAI wondering why at the same time when they were being asked to take a 10 or 15% wage cut, the board were approving an extra perk of free rent to the CEO. The board still hasn’t explained fully why their solution to a cashflow problem — which they still haven’t explained why they had it — was to ask an employee for a personal loan. Sport Ireland have also come out and asked why they weren’t told, because they should have been.

“That Oireachtas Committee has a hell of a job — robust, rigorous, they need to get every answer of all the questions that people are asking. Have you seen John Delaney’s previous appearance before the Oireachtas Committee? It was the equivalent of a fella being tickled and flirted with by some politicians. It was embarrassing stuff. But the personnel has changed.

“We need to keep harping on about this before the FAI or whatever delegation appears in front of the politicians, because they need to get clear answers on how Irish football is being run. There’s a hell of a lot people who don’t come anymore because they are completely disillusioned with where Irish football is and where they believe it’s going.

“They’re looking for more meaningful change than where John Delaney parks his car outside the building in Abbotstown. They’ve created a new role for him, with no recruitment process. He got it straight away. And funnily enough, the remit of the new role is very similar to the job he just left. Actual change has to happen.”

Sadlier continued: “The makeup of the board — they’ve been together a long time, that needs to be looked at and freshened up and completely reinvigorated.

The way in which the executive is set up, whatever about the job titles — the current CEO, the interim CEO or the new CEO coming in. We’ve always gotten the sense from a distance that power in Irish football rests in one man, that the structure of Irish football and the FAI is too reliant and dependent on one man, and that’s not a healthy situation as well.

“All the stuff about the rent, [John Delaney's] wages, this is a song we’ve been singing for years, but I haven’t heard a reason that someone who does what he does justifies the wage that the board give him… Because public money goes into Irish football.”

Duff also backed calls for changed within the association and suggested his former Ireland team-mate Niall Quinn as a possible candidate to take over as the new CEO.

“The thought of Niall coming in with fresh ideas would excite me,” he said.

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