The nation’s soccer correspondents were a bit preoccupied at the time – Ireland’s Euro 2020 qualification campaign had just kicked off with a 1-0 win in Gibraltar – but the news still filtered out almost instantaneously.
John Delaney wasn’t so much stepping down as CEO as stepping sideways – and into the newly created position of Executive Vice-President. The news came shortly after controversy erupted over a €100,000 bridging loan Delaney provided to the association.
Today, with numerous investigations into the FAI ongoing, as well as countless further revelations about Delaney’s conduct while at the association emerging, the man who ruled Irish football for close to 15 years is finally gone.
Fittingly, another Saturday night-statement on September 28 confirmed the news.
Back in March, following Delaney’s attempt at an FAI corporate reshuffle, a series of statements released by the provincial football associations, the FAI Junior Council and a number of junior and schoolboy football leagues expressed support for the embattled administrator.
Now, just over seven months on, Independent.ie contacted 12 administrators who released statements supporting Delaney in March and April, as he left his role as CEO for the newly created position of Executive Vice-President.
While some stood by their original comments, others were tight-lipped about what has unfolded – but some now acknowledge that they can’t back John Delaney any more.
To start, the Leinster Football Association has distanced themselves from the statement of support they signed in March.
The statement was signed off by administrators from each of the four provincial football councils and the FAI Junior Council, Gerry Tully for Connacht FA, Ger Delaney for Munster FA, Herbie Barr for Ulster FA, Dennis Cruise for the FAI Junior council and Peter Doyle for Leinster FA.
Following Doyle’s appointment to a new role for the FAI, his acting successor as administrator at Leinster FA, David Hearst, said that he does not stand by a statement of support for Delaney, despite admitting the work of the former CEO, outlined in the statement for grassroots football is true.
“Well number one, I wasn’t in the post at the stage, I’m only the acting administrator,” Hearst told Independent.ie.
“In my opinion, no, we wouldn’t stand by it. Now in fairness, I think the statement talks about what he had done for Irish football and not his conduct at the time – which has since been questionable.
“In view of what has been said and in view of the investigation that has gone on, I think in all honesty, at the time the association thought that everything was going to blow over and they were just standing politely and supporting him because of the good work that he did. And he did do some good work, aside from the other things that have come out.”
Despite Delaney’s formal resignation from the FAI, the settlement for which is thought to be worth €350,000, he still holds a position on the UEFA board worth €160,000 plus expenses.
The statement made by the provincial and junior football councils in March also backed Delaney as the “person to continue his work with UEFA and FIFA matters in his [then] new role as Executive Vice President”. Hearst said that this is no longer the opinion of the Leinster FA.
“I don’t think UEFA will want anything to do with him in view of the circumstances.
“John Delaney did many good things for the association, but unfortunately it now appears there has been a lot of stories going around that one can’t really stand over. There’s certainly a cloud over his participation. I don’t think UEFA will want anything to do with him at all.”
Independent.ie attempted to contact all the signatories of the statement. Dennis Cruise [FAI Junior Council] and Gerry Tully [Connacht FA] refused to comment on whether they still believe in the sentiment of the message, while because of his current role with the FAI, Doyle declined to comment. Ger Delaney from the Munster FA could not be contacted.
Herbie Barr of the Ulster FA said that as a result of the original statement’s unauthorised release, he can no longer comment on such issues without the permission of his association. He did, however, reaffirm the work John Delaney has done for junior football in Ireland.
“Any statement I make has to be authorised by the Ulster FA now, because of things that happened,” he said.
“The former statement was not authorised and as a result I can’t say anything now. At the time the statement said that John did a lot of good work for football and I would stand by that. I would rather not give my own personal opinion of John Delaney now.”
Some of the country’s junior football leagues also spoke out in March in favour of John Delaney’s position within the FAI. Gerry Gorman, Chairman for the North East Football League (NEFL), endorsed all matters featured in the statement by the provincial councils and junior committee at the time.
In his statement regarding John Delaney, on behalf of the NEFL, Gorman heralded “the major transformation of the FAI under his 14-year leadership”. Gorman’s statement also criticised the “idiocy” of the “misguided individuals” who threw tennis balls onto the Aviva Stadium pitch during Ireland’s European Qualifier defeat of Georgia.
The demonstration was a protest against the FAI’s decision to create the new position of Executive Vice-President for Delaney after he stepped aside from as CEO, following the news of the loan he gave to the organisation.
NEFL club Ardee Celtic said at the time that they did not support this statement and were not consulted by Gorman, also confirming to Independent.ie that clubs were not asked for their opinions prior to its release.
Gorman’s statement continued that the fans should, in relation to Delaney, “display our appreciation for our heroes”. But does he still consider John Delaney a hero of Irish football?
“No comment. What’s it going to achieve me voicing an opinion one way or the other?
“When are they going to move on? The business of football goes on in the FAI. People are doing their utmost to keep the show on the road in very difficult circumstances.”
“The government have turned their back completely on them and yet they can produce coaches of a very decent standard – the same with the U-21s, a homegrown manager taking on the might of Europe in their own back yard and winning very convincingly,” he added.
“These are the things we should be focusing on, not churning up the negativity of what may or may not have transpired.”
Another statement made at the time, supporting the former CEO, was by Ireland’s biggest league, the Dublin and District Schoolboys League (DDSL). Independent.ie understands the statement was not ratified by the board and not all board members were consulted before its release. Five DDSL clubs contacted at the time also confirmed that they were not consulted.
Paddy Dempsey, DDSL Chairman, was not available for contact.
Noel Kennedy of the Sligo/Leitrim league previously referred to Delaney as “the FAI’s greatest ever signing”. He now says that the work Delaney has done for the lower levels of football is irrefutable, but admits he will have to wait for the findings of an external investigation into the FAI to decide upon how great he was for Irish football.
“There a lot of things you have to put into context. I’m secretary of the Sligo/Leitrim league for the last 40 years. They took on John Delaney to try develop structures. You can see what he has done in terms of some of the parks in Leitrim, in Galway, in Sligo Rovers, the centres of excellence.
“So that’s why I said that about the [former] CEO. If you take the schoolboys and the juniors, we’ve seen membership double, so that was the context I meant he was the best signing for the FAI.
“Again, there is a lot of stuff under investigation there, so I’ll have to wait and see what comes out. I wasn’t on the board, so I don’t know what has happened. I think we need to investigate it wider, back to the AGM in 2017.
“You can say, ‘John Delaney did this, John Delaney did that’. Whatever has happened has happened. If it’s proven and it comes out, it will be very interesting, but my comment at that particular time, there were people killing to be on the board and they were all having a great time on it, yet no one knew what was up. I find that very frustrating.”
John O’Regan, secretary of the Kerry District League said that Delaney did “mighty work for many, many years” in Kerry. O’Regan said that he spoke to the former FAI chief on Sunday, immediately after he formally resigned from the association and that Delaney is upset about recent events but is relieved that that it is over.
“He’s done a fantastic job here in Kerry. John Delaney was in the job for 14 or 15 years. He did mighty work for many, many years,” he said.
“I’m listening to people in the grassroots in Kerry and Limerick and all over. In youth soccer and junior soccer and schoolboy soccer. They have no problem with John Delaney. He’s done an awful lot for that side of the game. The people I have seen whinging and moaning all the time are the crowd in the League of Ireland.
“I can’t see what was done wrong to be honest about it.”
“I was talking to him on the phone on Sunday. He’s relieved to be honest about it, that it’s all over. He’s a bit sad that he has to leave the game,” he continued.
“He is affected by everything, which is sad. What a lot of people forget about is that he has two teenage children that nobody thinks about and his parents are old. They have to see it all. Not all of us do everything right – we all make mistakes – but the way I look at everything is, if you do more good than you do wrong, you haven’t done too badly.
“He’s just trying to leave the dust settle now, it was a hard time for him over the last couple of months. He’s sad but a bit relieved that it’s all over.”
Padraig Doran of Duncannon Football Club echoed O’Regan’s opinion about the work Delaney did for low-level clubs – but says that questions on his legacy required a “two-pronged answer”.
“No [I don’t stand by making the comment now], we don’t want to talk about him,” he said.
“He’s done a lot for our club. Everything we said in that statement was true. In light of what has come out, the club don’t want to comment on him at all, but it was all true what we said. There are two sides to it, and you have to separate what he has done for clubs like ours and all of the other stuff.
“You have to separate it. There are two sides to it. The grassroots side, and I think he’s done an awful lot there, and then the governance of the FAI, which wasn’t run right. So, when you separate the two it’s a two-pronged answer.”