Jonathan Hill profile: FAI CEO’s term will not be deemed a success

Ultimately the Hill legacy looks to be one of big plans being talked about and promised, but never fully executed

Football Association of Ireland chief executive Jonathan Hill and Irish football have parted company, with the FAI making the announcement that he will leave at the end of the month on Monday morning.

Hill, who is believed to have had two more years to run on his contract, had been under pressure within the association since his appearances before the Public Accounts Committee in Leinster House where he explained payments he received in lieu of holidays not taken in 2022.

When those erroneous payments reached the public domain last year, and he was forced to return about €20,000 to the FAI, then chairperson Roy Barrett took the blame. Hill had received €12,000 in lieu of untaken holidays, claiming the payments were due to a misinterpreted joke. He also repaid €8,000 benefit-in-kind that he received for commuting expenses.

Now, as we approach 150 days without an Ireland men’s manager, Hill is to leave his role and director of football Marc Canham must deliver a “head coach” of substance.


The FAI have acted quickly by naming David Courell, their chief operating officer, as interim chief executive. From Castlebar in Mayo, Courell spent nine years at the English FA before relocating to Ireland in 2022. It’s a start.

Ultimately, Hill’s three-and-a-half years as CEO will not be deemed a success. For several reasons.

The 60-year-old executive was appointed in October 2020 ahead of the likes of Olympic Federation of Ireland president Sarah Keane. As commercial director of the FA, he claims to have created the tournament slogan for Euro ‘96: “Football Comes Home.” Boasting a respectable CV since those heady days down Wembley Way, there is a bad joke to be made about Hill refusing to leave home while running Irish football.

Of course, he was forced to commute from London to Dublin at his own expense when Sport Ireland discovered the overpayments. The fact Hill flew home every Friday, when the business of football tends to be conducted over the weekend, annoyed the grassroots.

Hill used to send regular emails to staff under the title “We Are One.” This rubbed staff up the wrong way, especially when they discovered his salary soared from €211,000 to €258,000, a 22 per cent hike, as they only got a 12 per cent pay rise.

On Monday morning it was the latest FAI chairperson, Tony Keohane, who informed the 240 employees of the CEO’s departure.

Keohane said the search for Hill’s permanent successor “begins immediately.” But between the tenures of John Delaney and Hill, there were four interim executive leads. Courell makes it five.

The Hill era cannot be summed up in one word. It will, however, be remembered for his one-word email to former finance director Alex O’Connell on December 19th, 2022. “Perfect.”

Even before that email was made public in front of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in February, there was a feeling that the CEO was dodging the media, trying to avoid questions on awkward subjects, like his commute, the lack of a men’s sponsor and Vera Pauw’s reign.

Hill took two payments to cover travel expenses for around €8,000, and a €11,500 payment in lieu of holidays not taken. Both sums were discovered by a Kosi audit, noting that Hill had breached the €270,000 salary permitted under a 2020 Government bailout to keep the FAI afloat.

Job number one was always to avoid comparisons to Delaney. Hill’s legacy would hinge on him being able to distance himself from his predecessor.

Before two separate joint-Oireachtas committees in December 2023 and February 2024, Hill refused to shoulder any blame. At the very moment he was reading out his explanation to the Public Accounts Committee, journalists sitting in the Leinster House gallery were sifting through emails the FAI had belatedly handed over.

Hill claims a “throwaway line” about his unused holidays evolved into Barrett sanctioning the €11,500 despite board member Liz Joyce warning against doing so.

“I was not party to these discussions,” he told PAC.

Hill also denied his “suggestion” was actually a “request.” However, in an email among a great many redacted pages, O’Connell refers to the payment as being Hill’s own request, and says he will send it on to Barrett for approval. “Perfect,” came the reply from Hill.

Seemingly, this was another throwaway remark.

To Hill’s credit, he managed to unite every political party in Ireland. TDs and Senators were livid with the late handing over of emails discussing the cash for holidays payment. FAI president Paul Cooke told the PAC that his confidence in the CEO had been “challenged.”

The gathering in Leinster House was supposed to discuss €517 million in state funds that are needed to enhance football facilities across Ireland. It never came up. Hill had become a distraction from the business of running the game.

Outside, on Kildare Street, Hill and Louise Cassidy, the FAI director of communications and marketing, breezed past reporters keen for answers, with one asking: “Jonathan, do you expect the country to buy that explanation?”

We were back in 2019 territory. Smaller sums of money but the same, embarrassing scenario for the FAI.

Cassidy left the FAI in March, and has yet to be replaced, while the marketing department is down to its bare bones. Yet, in the parting email, Hill states: “We have developed a new, dynamic senior leadership team, a clear strategic vision, a bold plan to address football’s wider infrastructure needs and a stable and growing financial platform for further and sustainable growth.”

But still no Ireland manager.

The football was almost forgotten among all the sponsor-searches and managerial-hunts.

Hill was part of a three-man recruitment team, alongside Canham and Packie Bonner, tasked with replacing Stephen Kenny, who was cut loose in November following a disastrous Euro 2024 campaign.

Later this week the FAI are expected to announce a new “head coach.” This deadline has been pushed back on three occasions already.

Hill claimed “a notable step forward” was equal pay for the men’s and women’s international players. This happened because Seamus Coleman got the men’s squad to take a reduced appearance fee.

A title sponsor for the men was eventually landed last month but the expansion of Sky from the women’s to both squads was not seen as some great commercial achievement when the bottom line is examined. As usual, the CEO was unavailable for comment.

Ultimately the Hill legacy looks to be one of big plans being talked about and promised, but never fully executed.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent