A step too far after many miles of mistakes

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It’s not just about a song or any one particular blunder but against a background of professional mediocrity, the celebrity and excuses of John Delaney aren’t good enough for Irish soccer, writes Ewan MacKenna

For the journalist, he keeps on giving. From Irish football, he just keeps taking away.

Earlier this week, a conversation with a respected football writer in England turned to what exactly John Delaney’s curriculum vitae must look like at this point. After all, with December lapping up against us, he’s now 10 years in the role of chief executive of the FAI, and while this column has previously highlighted the unfortunate need for politicking, that’s no excuse for the lack of reforms and the lack of real progress. Delaney hasn’t led well, his changes have been limited and time and again, as the main representative of football here, he’s been embarrassing and unprofessional. Indeed, his biggest achievement across his time is that he has held on to his position.

It’s easy to avoid balance with Delaney but, at this stage, anything that doesn’t involve a scalpel, hatchet and hammer is imbalanced. You see, this isn’t merely about a song he sang in a pub. It’s the final step that goes too far, but it takes a lot of prior stumbling to get to that stage. From falling home shoeless at Euro 2012 to picking rows with the Scottish FA because he couldn’t sort out simple ticket distribution, to Wolfe Tones impersonations, to his subsequent attempts to play Teflon John and wriggle free from his latest misjudgement – it’s all too much and rather than ask why regarding this latest mess, the question should be why he doesn’t have to walk away?

Had there been some revolution or evolution during his tenure, akin to that in Belgian or Uruguayan football, we could find some excuses for him. But all his attention-grabbing has come against a backdrop of a mediocre record in his actual job. Ask yourself how many times have you seen Delaney in the news? Now, how many of those times were positive? And now ask where Páraic Duffy of the GAA or Philip Browne of the IRFU would be if they’d a similar record pockmarked by blunders and blemishes? For a job entailing such a high degree of diplomacy, Delaney’s efforts aren’t good enough and he should no longer be tolerated.

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By now, you probably know the latest story; but just in case, here goes. After last week’s win over the USA, a video was leaked of Delaney singing the song Joe McDonnell. On Saturday, when the website Balls.ie posted the clip, it was warned by the FAI, saying it was exposed to legal action because the man was not Delaney. Two days later, in good faith, London law firm Debello warned the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian in similar fashion. Delaney then admitted it was indeed him in the video, and that there’d been some mix-up because he was busy trying to sort out comments made about his partner on an Irish football fans forum. But that didn’t explain the 48 hours between the exact same messages sent to different media groups threatening the truth.

Some might fall for that. Delaney spoke to Ryan Tubridy in a cringeworthy interview on 2FM last week that dealt largely with cyber bullying and danced around the real issue, before a bundle of texts about how great Delaney was were read out. His brief attempt at saying sorry was as unconvincing as a man apologising to his wife on the basis he never thought he’d be caught. After that came the tears on Pat Kenny’s Newstalk show, but by then he’d already turned us right off the idea of having that midlife crisis. Indeed the brazenness stopped just short of the shotgun release of ‘John’s Jukebox’ to the Christmas album market.

It makes you wonder when enough is enough. After all, this week his excuses for his own behaviour have involved a familiar narrative of blaming others in an association he’s paid €360,000 for the buck to stop with him. He blamed whoever “slyly” took the video of a “private” moment, playing dumb in not realising the word “pub” comes from public house. He’s blamed the online abuse of his partner and while it’s appalling, even us tiny fish have received far worse and never cheapened it by using it to deflect from inappropriate actions. As if an excuse, he noted: “Over the years, I’ve been working closely with cross-border initiatives to break down barriers.” But so did Joe McDonnell!

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Delaney then added that he had no problem with anyone questioning him professionally in his capacity with the FAI. Like so much here, that is not true. He does indeed have a problem with people questioning him. Last year, when Dion Fanning of the Sunday Independent looked for important answers, Delaney said he was disappointed in him. Along with colleagues, he also informally met with another newspaper, questioning the accuracy of their football correspondent without showing solid examples, before offering access for softened stances. Does that constitute having no problem with taking criticism?

But it gets worse still. Delaney has said he and his partner didn’t want public attention, yet all the while he plays the celebrity game, buddying up with showbiz correspondents while avoiding those from sports departments. A few weeks back, there was what amounted to a promo video in the Sunday Independent. Next was a Brendan O’Connor Show appearance. And there was Barry Egan last Sunday with suspiciously close inside information in the Sindo, as if Delaney’s relationship is our version of the Kardashians. Then came Tubridy asking why does he do it given the abuse he takes before saying, “I don’t want to embarrass you,” when refusing to play the clip of him singing.

But Delaney had long since embarrassed himself. And while the FAI board issued a cheap and cheerful statement backing a man that’s an ambassador for their game, we no longer can. Aside from this circus, Irish football already has enough to worry about.

Sunday Business Post
30 October, 2014

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