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'I'm conditioned in such a way to be suspicious of the FAI... But things have changed'

Noel Mooney was praised for improving the atmosphere at the association by Stephen McGuinness and others yesterday.

Stephen McGuinness of the PFAI (file pic).
Stephen McGuinness of the PFAI (file pic).
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Updated at 12.24

THE NEED FOR clubs to be united and the sense of change within Irish football of late were the main themes emanating from an hour-long press conference to conclude the National League strategic planning weekend hosted by the Football Association of Ireland yesterday.

General manager Noel Mooney was joined by a number of League of Ireland representatives to reflect on their discussions over the past two days.

Amid talk of a new era, however, there were also familiar concerns.

“The one thing for League of Ireland clubs is financial stability,” said Dundalk’s Martin Connolly. “That was emphasised a number of times. I think Noel and the FAI in general were left in no uncertain terms that that’s a major concern going forward.”

The different challenges and needs of various clubs was also a point reiterated on a number of occasions, as the establishment of a working group representing all 20 SSE Airtricity League of Ireland clubs was announced.

Running Dundalk in a successful manner, for instance, is a far different task to guiding less high-profile clubs in the First Division.

Despite the contrasting expectations and financial considerations along with many other differences between the 20 teams, it was suggested by representatives at yesterday’s event that the days of clubs falling out with one another and only looking after their own interests were in the past. David Rowe, Sligo Rovers’ Honorary Treasurer, was one of those to endorse this viewpoint. 

Rowe also spoke of the painstaking work undertaken by his own club merely to survive in the notoriously harsh world of League of Ireland football.

“600 local people own [Sligo Rovers],” he said. “None of us can own any more than three shares. We’ve a turnover of €1.2 million, of which we raised a phenomenal 400 grand in voluntary fundraising. We’ve just done €10 door-to-door ticket sales, which has raised 78 grand. That’s all great, but that takes a hell of an effort in a town of 20,000 people. We had 2,000 people for a mid-table match against Waterford [the other night].

From a Sligo Rovers point of view, I thought it was a really positive weekend. I do think the business model we’re all operating under is completely flawed. We can make up the gap in Sligo by a lot of hard work in terms of voluntary fundraising. But whether what we’re raising is sustainable at that kind of level going into the future is doubtful. It constrains a lot of the things we would like to do around youth development, community, although we’re doing a lot of those things already.

“There were a lot of good ideas [this weekend], but as a league, we’re missing out on a lot of what I would call soft money — TV rights, commercial agreements, player transfers. The league clubs as a group of 20 don’t have the ability to tap into a lot of these things themselves. We need some outside help.

“It was clear from the Niall Quinn and Kieran Lucid group that there are a lot of tremendous resources within the FAI and Uefa. From my point of view, this needs to be a partnership going forward. The league being a ‘problem child’ and the [issues] with the FAI, I think they’re over. It was a very open, transparent weekend. We as a group probably realise there’s more strength together than fighting against each other.”

“The model at the moment is not sustainable,” added Dundalk’s Martin Connolly. “We probably have one of the only leagues in Uefa that don’t have a substantial TV deal.

“It has been said at a recent conference I was at: ‘The only way leagues will develop is on TV deals.’ How are we going to develop a league if we don’t have a good TV deal? We’re all united in that. We want to develop the league and people are telling me the only way is this way.”

Stephen Henderson Stephen Henderson was representing the newly formed League Managers' Association. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Meanwhile, Stephen McGuinness of the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland reserved praise for Mooney, suggesting the atmosphere around Abbotstown had changed markedly since his arrival to temporarily oversee proceedings.

“I’ve been involved [in football] for over 25 years. It’s the first time I’ve been involved in a room with the clubs in that time as a player or a player representative. David Rowe’s presentation hit home to me about the difficulties that the clubs face. From a PFAI perspective, we don’t know the challenges that the clubs face financially. I see it externally. But there’s no relationship between us and the clubs, it’s very hard to understand it. The two days spent here really opened up my eyes. 

“I think I’m the only one here that works in [FAI headquarters]. Since Noel’s come in, it has changed dramatically. You feel part of it. It’s refreshing.

“I’m conditioned in such a way to be suspicious of the FAI, because of what our organisation has gone through over the past 10 or 12 years. But things have changed. It feels different.

“For this game to be successful, we all have to be part of it. It can’t just be the clubs or players. We all have to be together. For too long, we’ve all been split apart. For the first time, I’ve actually felt we’re all together. The clubs are going to get together again and it’s important that the clubs are part of the league going forward.

“40% of the players in the league are amateur. We need funds into the league so we’ve more professionals, which is what I want. But for that to happen, we’ve got to work on it and the parameters and standards set have to be something we all agree on. Whether it’s a minimum wage or whatever, it has to be something we all negotiate.” 

Former Cobh Ramblers boss, Stephen Henderson, representing the newly created League Managers’ Association, agreed with McGuinness that a healthier environment to discuss footballing matters had been created.

I’m somebody who was really frustrated over the last 20 years in terms of seeing where the league was and not seeing much difference. [The change has] been a credit to Noel Mooney. He’s been magnificent getting people into the room and how transparent it was. We all know it was a closed shop. We’re trying to move Irish football forward, especially as a League of Ireland group, because of what happened in the past. But the governance review has to be passed before anything happens.

“As somebody heavily involved in bringing young players through in the First Division, I was very aware of what Cobh Ramblers and Waterford were in terms of budgetary constraints — we knew we were a feeder club basically.

“That’s why people are getting on with each other today — because we all took a step and realised, this is our role within the game. If we’re going to achieve higher status, we’re not going to do it by spending money we don’t have.”

Originally published at 06.15

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy  / reports from FAI HQ in Abbotstown

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