Worst of crises over for clubs, says Delaney


SOCCER:FAI CHIEF executive John Delaney told members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs yesterday that he believes the worst of the financial crises that have gripped League of Ireland clubs recently are in the past. But he also warned that a number could still face problems as they adapt to greatly increased regulation.

Delaney described the fact that more than 90 per cent of players are out of contract as a “terrific” opportunity to address their costs, but, he insisted, many clubs have already made considerable progress towards achieving a more sustainable business model, with collective annual losses reduced from €6.9 million to €2.7 million.

With Tom Coughlan due to face an FAI disciplinary hearing today, Delaney said after leaving Leinster House that the Cork City chairman could face a ban from football if found to have brought the game into disrepute by his management of the club during the past 12 months.

While he insisted he did want to say anything about Coughlan’s case or do anything to pre-empt the outcome of today’s hearing, he felt that “a lot of the stakeholders have lost faith in him and the way he runs the club. There is a lot of negativity about Tom Coughlan”.

He was unsure whether Coughlan, who, in the wake of the news that Roddy Collins has resigned his job at Maltese outfit Floriana, was widely expected last night to install the Dubliner as City’s next manager, will even turn up to the hearing.

Delaney told committee members, meanwhile, that a change of culture was still in progress among the people who run Irish clubs, but that the association would not tolerate the sort of financial irregularities that resulted in Derry City being expelled from the league last month.

The problems at the Brandywell had taken so long to come to light, he suggested, because the club was located in another tax jurisdiction. But he said the action taken since the problems with contracts and cash payments had been uncovered provided evidence of the association’s determination to deal firmly with those who break the rules.

“Our job is to keep clubs in football where we can, but maybe we were too facilitatory in the past, not as tough as we are going to be in the future.”

It was confirmed, however, that a reformed Derry City have applied for membership of the first division next season.

Members of the committee, including Mary Upton, John O’Mahony, Michael Kennedy, Michael Ring and Senator Paul Bradford, questioned Delaney about the problems encountered by the league this year, as well as its ability to grow its audience in coming years given the growing number of alternative sources of entertainment available.

A wide range of other topics were also raised, including the success or otherwise of the switch at League of Ireland level to summer football.

Most, including committee chairman Tom Kitt, expressed their satisfaction that the association has made good use of the money provided by the Government in recent years, with dramatically improved facilities having come on stream all over the country.

Delaney and Richard Fahey, the association’s director of licensing and facility development, sought to make a case for the delivery of the Abbotstown Sports Campus project. Fahey described the facility as “the research and development aspect of our game and at the moment it’s not there.

“It is,” he claimed, “absolutely crucial to the development of our game. At the moment our young players up to the age of 17 years are as good as anywhere in the world, but what’s not there is the ability to finish them – from 17 to 21.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Kitt acknowledged the importance of the project and said the committee would take on board the strength of the association’s desire to see it completed.

The scheme was allocated around €3 million in last week’s budget for the renovation of the former Marine Institute Building, and Delaney later welcomed the allocation as evidence the campus idea is still on the Government agenda.

“People thought it might be culled and we’re delighted that it hasn’t, but I don’t know when it might happen, more gradually, over a longer period of time than was originally envisaged, perhaps.”

He also expects the Sports Capital Programme to receive a fresh allocation of funding in 2011.

“We’ve been told that it will come back and it puts us in a very good position to continue to improvement of our facilities,” he told journalists after the hearing. “I’d be very surprised if, in 2011, there wasn’t some announcement of a new Sports Capital Programme.”

It was revealed that South Dublin County Council has examined the cost of completing Tallaght Stadium by building stands behind the two goals. The expenditure that would be required has, it is believed, been reduced considerably, but restrictions on spending by local authorities mean the council is unlikely to be able to proceed in the immediate future.