FAI unity, fears for Bul­garia games, and Covid is­sues

Con­flict­ing stances of Quinn and Kerr high­light tough search for com­mon ground

Irish Independent - - News | John Hume: 1937-2020 - DANIEL McDONNELL

IT WAS a strik­ing con­trast to kick off an­other sig­nif­i­cant week for Ir­ish foot­ball. Just a few min­utes af­ter Niall Quinn ex­pressed the hope that a “thing called unity” might show its face, Brian Kerr sat in the same seat of­fer­ing an al­ter­na­tive view of the power strug­gle at the top of our game. Dis­agree­ment is no bad thing if there’s a con­struc­tive dis­cus­sion and this is the bal­ance that has be found in the com­ing days. Quinn will be in Ab­bot­stown to­mor­row for a press con­fer­ence which he says will re­veal “stuff that the game needs to know about” and out­line what the cur­rent hi­er­ar­chy are “set up to do and strive to do”.

The un­rest in what some term as the ‘foot­ball fam­ily’ has cen­tred from a move to­wards in­de­pen­dent di­rec­tors hav­ing 50 per cent rep­re­sen­ta­tion at board level, a swift exit for vet­eran Coun­cil mem­bers and ques­tion marks around ap­point­ments such as Quinn’s ar­rival as deputy CEO next to Gary Owens and their close­ness to in­de­pen­dent chair Roy Bar­rett. It seems that the for­mer Ir­ish in­ter­na­tional is set to stay on be­yond his ini­tial six-month term.

Through re­cent tur­bu­lence, there has been a sense that lead­ing de­ci­sion-mak­ers re­main con­fi­dent in their be­lief that they should drive on with their plans even if it knocks noses out of joint.

This view has been strength­ened by sup­port from Govern­ment and pos­i­tive vibes from FIFA and UEFA that has left the so-called rebels in a tricky spot.

Pro­posed re­forms in­clude changes to the struc­ture of the Coun­cil and there are plans re­lated to youth and un­der­age foot­ball, but it re­mains to be seen what is rolled out in a pub­lic­ity drive be­fore Fri­day’s emer­gency coun­cil meet­ing driven by mem­ber con­cerns. Quinn sug­gested the all-is­land league will also be on the agenda at Ab­bot­stown.

“I’m not con­tracted but I will be around for the near fu­ture in terms of what’s re­quired,” he said, be­fore hark­ing back to where things stood in Jan­uary – the point where Bar­rett signed the con­tentious res­cue deal with Govern­ment that up­graded the re­forms voted through last year. Hence, the need for an EGM to agree to these amend­ments with the restora­tion of Govern­ment fund­ing de­pen­dent on ap­proval.

“The cul­ture of foot­ball was in a ter­ri­ble place, the brand was in a ter­ri­ble place, and lots of peo­ple have lots of thoughts on that. We’ve had no foot­ball so you guys have had noth­ing else to write about ex­cept the mood and the frag­men­ta­tion that ex­ists. And, be­lieve it or not, be­hind the scenes we were try­ing to do some good stuff.

“I’ve just tried to put in place the foun­da­tions for a bet­ter fu­ture for Ir­ish foot­ball re­gard­less of how votes go. I go back to that word, unity. We’re go­ing to find it hard if there’s a splin­ter­ing and a frac­tur­ing that’s even worse than it was.’’

Quinn won’t be amend­ing his stance on the board struc­ture, and has taken is­sue with com­men­tary cast­ing in­de­pen­dent di­rec­tors as out­siders, ref­er­enc­ing an ar­ti­cle which im­plied that he wasn’t a “foot­ball per­son”.

“I’ve been in the game 37 years, if I’m not a foot­ball per­son then I don’t know what I am,” he con­tin­ued, be­fore as­sert­ing that he “100 per cent” stands over the view that four in­de­pen­dent board mem­bers and eight elected through foot­ball chan­nels is flawed.

“Where the nar­ra­tive slipped in the last few months has been an us and them. That’s not the case. There is noth­ing wrong in that ‘in­de­pen­dence’ of hav­ing foot­ball peo­ple as in­de­pen­dents, as long as they’re not con­flicted.

“When the word ‘in­de­pen­dents’ comes out it is not in­de­pen­dence on the ba­sis that these peo­ple were never at a foot­ball match in their lives. There needs to be skill-sets in ev­ery good mod­ern or­gan­i­sa­tion. Hope­fully, we can see some­thing more pos­i­tive, from our side on Wed­nes­day about what the fu­ture may look like. Hope­fully we’ll come out of this with the right struc­ture.”

Kerr was lis­ten­ing in the back­ground as a Vir­gin Me­dia event that was mark­ing the re­turn of Euro­pean foot­ball veered into lo­cal con­cerns. He said he en­dorsed some de­ci­sions made by the cur­rent board, and praised the qual­ity of the WatchLOI stream­ing ser­vice (Quinn says sales have gone bet­ter than ex­pected but added that he wasn’t con­trac­tu­ally in a po­si­tion to di­vulge de­tails).

But Kerr ques­tioned the process of in­ter­nal ap­point­ments which in­cluded Mark Scan­lon’s as league di­rec­tor and had an­other stance on the board de­bate.

Dis­missed

“It’s al­right say­ing peo­ple shouldn’t be dis­missed be­cause they haven’t been a player or in­volved in foot­ball all their life. Equally, I would say just be­cause you fol­low a team doesn’t mean you’re in­volved in foot­ball,” coun­tered Kerr, with Quinn out of the room at this stage.

“I think get­ting the bal­ance is very im­por­tant. I’m not sure that they are go­ing to get it right. The pre­vi­ous regime was dis­as­trous. Roy Bar­rett was caught over a bar­rel in the Jan­uary ne­go­ti­a­tions, deal­ing with Govern­ment and civil ser­vants when they had noth­ing in the kitty and wages had to be paid.

“They had to con­cede some­thing in those ne­go­ti­a­tions that would have been very dif­fi­cult to con­cede. It might have been eas­ier to con­cede if your back­ground wasn’t in foot­ball, right. The board have made some bad de­ci­sions. They didn’t know enough about Ir­ish foot­ball.

“They seem anx­ious to get ex­pe­ri­ence, qual­ity and a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive onto their board yet within the em­ploy­ees . . . they want to re­tain the po­si­tions for within. The re­cent jobs weren’t ad­ver­tised out­side and I don’t think any­body from out­side was in­ter­viewed.

“There’s been a lot of talk about gov­er­nance but I’m not sure about the pro­to­col and gov­er­nance around those de­ci­sions. They’ve got to fix some of that.”

The fix may not be a quick one.

The pre­vi­ous regime was dis­as­trous. Roy Bar­rett was caught over a bar­rel in the Jan­uary ne­go­ti­a­tions

STEPHEN McCARTHY/ SPORTS­FILE

In­flu­en­tial: Brian Kerr (right) and Niall Quinn at Vir­gin Me­dia’s Fes­ti­val of Foot­ball launch that, start­ing this week, will see 26 Euro­pean games broad­cast across 19 days

David Ti­tov of St Patrick’s Ath­letic has his tem­per­a­ture taken on ar­rival at Rich­mond Park. Be­low: Sup­port­ers watch last night’s ac­tion from a bal­cony over­look­ing the pitch

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