“If you’re going to become true dodgeballers, then you’ve got to learn the five d’s of dodgeball: dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge!”
The words of one Patches O’Houlihan from the 2004 Ben Stiller movie ‘DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story’, and a quote that provides the perfect metaphor for John Delaney’s tenure as Football Association of Ireland (FAI) Chief Executive.
Indeed, the head of Ireland’s governing body might have been a star performer for Average Joe’s Gymnasium.
Delaney has been in the top job for well over a decade and, despite countless calls to stand down from various quarters, he has managed to evade everything thrown in his direction.
It has been something of a rollercoaster for the Republic of Ireland since Delaney took over in 2005; from the appointment of the underqualified Steve Staunton as manager and the recent brand of boring, defensive football that led to UEFA Nations League relegation to the Euro 2012 and 2016 adventures and victories over the likes of Germany in competitive games.
The FAI parted company with Martin O’Neill and his assistant Roy Keane last week after a five-year spell and it didn’t take long for them to go back to the future with the re-appointment of Mick McCarthy who was at the helm from 1996 to 2002.
While many were happy with the decision, there had been a push for something new, fresh and local with the appointment of O’Neill’s successor, and Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny was the man put forward.
In a bid to appease everybody and quell the audible discontent from both fans and the media, Delaney has put together a scenario that sees McCarthy as senior manager until after the 2020 European Championships, with Kenny looking after the under 21s until then before stepping into the top job.
To again reference a mid-2000s cult classic movie, it’s a bold strategy, let’s see if it pays off for them.
The decision has been met with satisfaction but only after the likes of Liam Brady, Niall Quinn and Andy Townsend were very vocal in their assessment of how the game is run in Ireland.
An online petition by supporter group You Boys In Green which called for Delaney to stand down in the wake poor performances and a drop in attendances has attracted more than 20,000 signatures.
Despite this, Delaney remains defiant in his position and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere any time soon.
“Everybody can have their opinions,” he told reporters following the McCarthy appointment. “There is a robust structure within the FAI, I report to a board, there is a broader Council, strong grass-roots and when all of this goes away, which it does, I and the association have to manage 200 employees… there are big projects that haven’t been reported.”
While there is merit in having a succession plan in place, the definite nature of the agreement leaves little wiggle room if any caveats crop up in the next 24 months – what if McCarthy guides Ireland to the latter stages of Euro 2020 and there are calls for him to stay on? If Stephen Kenny flops with the under 21s how can he still be seen as a viable candidate for the seniors?
Delaney and the board of the FAI have gone in two footed and may escape a red card, or even a booking, for doing so but two years is a very long time in football.
This comes after board gave O’Neill and Keane the year less than a year since they were awarded lucrative contract extensions.
Indeed, O’Neill was one of the highest paid international managers during his spell in charge, earning a cool €2 million per year.
It is estimated that a pay off for O’Neill, Keane and the rest of the backroom staff cost the FAI somewhere in the region of €3 million, a signficant sum for a governing body still trying to climb its way out of the debt that remains following the construction of the Aviva Stadium.
O’Neill’s predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni also failed to see the end of his final deal after a poor run of results in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
Throughout his tenure, Delaney has rubbed many people up the wrong way and has neglected to call on some of the best minds in Irish football to improve things, most notably former national team boss Brian Kerr who knows the local scene inside out and had great success at underage level but hasn’t so much as a courtesy call from the FAI since they decided not to renew his contract in October 2005.
One of the most unforgivable moments of the his era came back in 2007 when RTE’s Liveline current affairs show asked for an FAI representative to come on to the programme to discuss some of the recent results which were less than satisfactory.
Instead of taking the call himself, or passing it on to a board member, a 74-year-old Bobby Robson, Steve Staunton’s assistant at the time and a man recovering from a bout of ill health, was the proverbial lamb to the slaughter as he was forced to defend the regime on the national airwaves.
Thankfully, the majority of the callers saw the situation for what it was and had sympathy for the position Robson found himself in but it was an early indication of how Delaney operated.
Relations with fans have been frayed over the years, with banners protesting FAI decisions and Delaney himself being banned from stadiums or forcefully removed, home and away.
This is despite Delaney’s best efforts to get the match goers onside by throwing his tie into the crowd in Skopje in 2011 and handing out cans of beer to all around him in Slovakia in 2010.
His attitude towards the League of Ireland is well known with Delaney having referred to the competition as his “difficult child” in 2014, and the top flight’s winners pick up prize money of just €110,000 compared to the Chief Executive’s annual salary of €360,000.
Of course, it isn’t all bad and grassroots clubs have done quite well out of FAI grants in recent years, and the presentation of oversized cheques has afforded Delaney plenty of photo opportunities.
One thing that everybody can agree on is that qualification for Euro 2020 is a must given Ireland are a host nation, and it would be a disaster not to have the national team as one of the 24 involved.
With McCarthy now in charge and a longer term plan in place in the form of Stephen Kenny, Delaney has smartly pandered to all around him and will do his utmost to ensure that he has his moment in the spotlight if Ireland play at the Aviva Stadium during a major tournament.
“John Delaney could run anything,” said media tycoon Denis O’Brien as part of the 2014 documentary ‘John The Baptist’, a behind-the-scenes look at the FAI that was every bit Alan Partridge as it was insight.
Delaney has been linked with a permanent role at UEFA (he is currently part of their Executive Committee) and this may be the only way we see a changing of the guard at the FAI.
Until then, the same shortcomings of the governing body will remain while the senior side looks to pick itself up after a miserable Nations League campaign.
Fan discontent won’t go away but Delaney has surrounded himself with a close knit group of supporters who wouldn’t dream of putting any pressure on his position.
Patches O’Houlihan lived by the mantra “if you can dodge a wrench then you can dodge a ball”, and John Delaney is a master of the art.