During Saturday’s tempestuous AGM in Booterstown the former FAI chairperson Roy Barrett effectively advised his successor Tony Keohane to write two letters.
The old yarn goes that when Leonid Brezhnev replaced Nikita Khrushchev as leader of the Soviet Union in 1964, he found two envelopes and a note in Khrushchev’s vacated office.
“When you get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of, open the first letter,” wrote Khrushchev, “and when you get yourself into another situation you can’t get out of, open the second”.
Brezhnev was not long opening the first envelope. “Blame me,” it read. When another crisis surrounded the general secretary, he peeked at the second. “Write two letters.”
A similar pattern emerged during the association’s six-hour event at St Helen’s Radisson Blu hotel, where Barrett took “full responsibility” for payments made to Jonathan Hill amounting to €20,000 that the FAI chief executive was forced to repay following a Sport Ireland-Kosi audit.
Hill confirmed the “gross” amount but added that “the net figure [he repaid] was less than that”.
Barrett was heckled from the podium on Saturday, with returning board member Dave Moran accusing him of “giving us a lecture”, and the current Sherry Fitzgerald chief had left the room before Keohane stepped to the microphone.
“Don’t worry, I’m made of tougher stuff than that,” said Keohane, in a thinly veiled reference to Barrett, who served the association over four years before shielding Hill from blame over his London commute and cash instead of holidays.
“My style will be one of listening,” the Cork native continued. “I am a team player, I am collaborative. I think they are important qualities to bring the best out of the board. I promise I will be transparent.”
Barrett made similar statements in 2021 and 2022 but the former Goodbody Stockbroker managing director felt unable to be transparent with the FAI board over payments to Hill due to concerns around the information being leaked to the media.
Due to the payments, €6.8 million in Government funding was temporarily withheld.
“I don’t apologise for the decision,” Barrett told delegates. “I believe it was the right decision . . . to retain, motivate and incentivise the executive.”
Keohane stated: “I’ll be blunt. That won’t happen on my watch.”
On Hill’s continued weekly commute from the UK, which he now pays for himself, the former English FA executive revealed that he is in Dublin four days a week and can “absolutely” do a good job for Irish football.
When asked to endorse the travelling CEO, Keohane said: “It is what it is. I am inheriting a situation and I accept that situation fully but I do understand that a job can be done remotely.”
More explaining is required from Barrett, Hill, Packie Bonner and other board members when they go before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media in Leinster House on Wednesday.
With Barrett deflecting focus from Hill, the FAI hope to move on to more practical issues surrounding the professional game, specifically the recruitment of “head coaches” to replace Vera Pauw and Stephen Kenny.
The woman’s management team will be unveiled this week while director of football Marc Canham intends to present a men’s coach to the board for ratification before two friendlies in March.
Hill confirmed the new managers will be paid exclusively from FAI bank accounts. This suggests a similar salary to Kenny of about €520,000 which is almost half what a manager in the second tier of English football can command.
“If the thrust of your question is: ‘will we take money that may come from outside the organisation to fund a coach?’ the answer is no,” said Hill. “We should be absolutely focused on using the money that we have at our disposal. Because that’s right.
“Obviously, budget will be one of the issues. It’s relevant to all the areas we have to look at in terms of 2024 and beyond. It’s definitely a factor. We’re pretty confident we’ll find the right person.”
The association continues to carry debts of €43 million and the Public Accounts Committee want to know how €33.7 million in Covid grants were spent when the FAI executive sits before them on February 1st.
A source last week told The Irish Times that they “wouldn’t put some of these board members in charge of running a school tuck shop, never mind Irish football”.
Earlier on Saturday, the 116-strong general assembly averted a governance crisis by expanding the FAI board of directors to 14 people, which allows the association to attain 40 per cent gender balance and secure €4.35 million in State funding. Two additional female directors, bringing that number to six, will be named in January.
Moran and Tom Browne returned as directors, and Nixon Morton was added to the board for the first time with 99 votes for and 12 against. Independent board members Catherine Guy and Liz Joyce also received enough votes for second terms.
Paul Cooke saw off Joe O’Brien, 89 to 21, to replace Gerry McAnaney as FAI president while John Finnegan was elected uncontested as vice president.
“I stood up when the FAI was in crisis in 2019,” said Cooke, who previously served as interim chief executive. “We’ve work to do.”