Preview of Ireland Euro 2020 Qualifiers/John Delaney latest

Pic: WikiCommons

By David Prendeville

Though Luca Connell has subsequently had to pull out through injury, it was encouraging to see Mick McCarthy include the 18-year old Bolton midfielder in his squad to play Denmark in Copenhagen on the 7th of June and Gibraltar in the Aviva on the 10th of June. The Liverpool-born youngster has been linked with a move to Spurs in the summer. Connell has represented Ireland at all underage levels, though he is also eligible for England. His inclusion in the squad may have been an attempt to avoid another Declan Rice situation by capping him early. Josh Cullen, on loan from West Ham at Charlton, is another promising youngster included in the squad. He too is also eligible for England. It has also been heartening to see the form of Bournemouth’s 20-year-old goalkeeper Mark Travers since he broke into their team at the end of the season. Travers was also included in the initial squad for this round of games but he too has subsequently had to pull out through injury. 

While McCarthy’s inclusion of these young players is something hopeful to hang on to amidst the endless misery surrounding Irish football and the FAI at the moment, doubts about his decision making will be raised once more at the exclusion of Harry Arter from the squad. Arter had a decent season at Cardiff, despite their relegation. Ireland will expect to beat Gibraltar at home (despite our struggles at their stadium), however not even the most optimistic of fans would expect anything in Copenhagen. It would be great to see some young blood like Cullen given some minutes in these games, to give fans some inklings of hope for a less bleak future. One can more likely expect the sight of 35-year old Glenn Whelan toiling away in the new deep-lying playmaker role assigned to him by McCarthy. Probably our best hope for avoiding another drubbing at the hands of the Danes is that Christian Eriksen might be tired after a long season with Spurs and the World Cup last summer. One other faintest of faint hopes in terms of the Irish team was the recent upturn in the form of Shane Long, though now also injured. The veteran Irishman finished the season with five goals after a lengthy goal drought, netting four of those in the last seven games of the season.

Now that you’ve had your fill of the clutching of positive straws, it’s time to turn our attention to the FAI and John Delaney saga which is still rumbling on  The FAI have appointed Noel Mooney to take over Delaney’s position for the next six months. There is a general feeling that those hoping for radical changes are unlikely to find it in this appointment. Speaking to FAI TV, Mooney was at pains to suggest that there needs to be a “rebuilding of trust” between the FAI and Irish soccer fans. He said they will be “listening” so that they can implement necessary “reform” to “lay the foundation for a bright new chapter in Irish football.” 

Mooney denied rumours suggesting he had been offered the role of CEO or discussed it with the FAI previously. He also denied being a watchdog for UEFA, with him being on secondment from them for the six months. He stated his only relations with UEFA in this period will be his accessing of their supports which can help Irish football going forward. When questioned as to whether he was going to, in essence, be in charge of the FAI, Mooney was keen to point out that: “The FAI board are in charge of the strategy for Irish football. The job of the administration is simply to implement that strategy.” He went to say that many aspects of the FAI “can be seen as a leading federation in UEFA” and that “it’s a shame that the things that have happened have a cast a shadow on the really good work of the FAI.” 

In terms of the FAI’s relationship with the government he said that “the government invests in football but gets a huge return on what they get from their investment” before going on to state that they were looking forward to “working closely with the government to a) restore the funding but also to put a business case forward whereby in the future we can increase funding for football because of the value that we provide to society.” He was positive about a reform of the body: “the governance reform offers the FAI a brilliant opportunity to create a new chapter” and that it’s crucial that we “recognise the need for change. There’s no alternative. We can’t stay as we are. We must change and evolve like any business or organisation.”

When pressed as to whether he would like the job of CEO permanently Mooney said: “I’m very happy at UEFA as a Head of Business Developments across European football. The ambition is to roll up the sleeves here, work extremely hard as a servant to Irish football and return to UEFA at the end of November.“ The move also means that interim CEO Rea Walshe will move back to her former role of Chief Operating Officer. Mooney denied other rumours that had been circulating that he was involved in the Jonathan Hall report – the document that stipulated moving John Delaney from his role as CEO to the newly created role of executive vice-president when the story of Delaney’s loaning of the FAI money broke. 

Minister for Sport Shane Ross was highly critical of the appointment of Mooney in a recent opinion piece in the Sunday Independent, stating that Mooney: “is one of the last people on God’s earth suitable for this job. There is no going back for the FAI. Going to Noel Mooney is going back to the dark ages.“ 

John Delaney was also not present at UEFA’s Executive Committee meeting in Baku prior to the Europa League final on May 29th. Delaney was voted on to the committee in 2017. UEFA did not give reasons for his absence. With UEFA set to bail the FAI out to ensure they don’t go solvent, there is a long, long road ahead for Ireland both on the pitch and off it.