FAI chief Jonathan Hill admits to sharing Stephen Kenny’s longer-term vision

‘I am not uncomfortable with him talking about where he sees a young group of players going’

FAi chief executive Jonathan Hill at the launch of a sponsorship deal with Sky of the Republic of Ireland women’s team. Photograph: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Following a formal press conference to announce Sky's four-year sponsorship of the Republic of Ireland women's shirt, Jonathan Hill guided journalists out the back door of Fuel's stuffy studio on Camden Street.

“Keep going,” said Hill when the vanguard met double doors. “And again, keep going,” he insisted at another barrier, before the FAI chief executive and trailing reporters found themselves in Flannery’s beer garden.

The 58-year-old Englishman quickly realised that this was familiar terrain for soccer hacks en route to the dormant Copper Face Jacks nightclub. Hill chose the empty space on a rainy Thursday afternoon to discuss his commercial rebuilding of Irish football.

Slight problem. Every question sought an opinion on Stephen Kenny and that newly unveiled masterplan to reach Euro 2024.


Turns out Hill and Kenny have spoken about the great beyond, Ireland’s place in it, and the unrealistic expectation of qualifying for next year’s Qatar World Cup.

“I am looking at World Cup 2026,” he insisted. “I want us to qualify for World Cup 2026. I want us to deliver another part of our vision, which is to make sure we have a direct relationship with the US diaspora.

“Now that doesn’t mean to say we are guaranteed that qualification but we are thinking strategically and we are thinking in a medium- to long-term way.”

When pressed on Kenny planning beyond his current contract, which runs until July 2022, Hill stated: “I am not uncomfortable with him talking about where he sees a young group of players going.”

Asked for a judgment call on recent results, with only two from a possible 15 points in Group A, Hill nimbly evaded a torrential downpour before diplomatically adding: “There has been a range of performances and there has been a range of results. That is the reality of the process thus far. Everyone knows that. They have seen what has happened.”

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny applauds the crowd after the draw against Serbia in the World Cup qualifier at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

The FAI communications director was already calling time. Busy day, people to see, deals to negotiate, especially a primary shirt sponsor for the men before it becomes a white whale.

“It’s been a difficult market, in particular Covid and in particular Brexit for everyone within sport and the wider commercial space,” Hill said earlier. “I’m less worried about timeframe than I am the quality of the partner we can find. We want to find a partner who is committed not only in the short-term but the long-term.

“We’ll be looking for a four-year deal in the same way we have signed a four-year deal with Sky for the women’s team. It’s that type of long-term partner who takes a wider and holistic view of a partnership with Irish football.”

Back to Kenny, has Hill witnessed sufficient progress since defeat at home to Luxembourg in March?

“I don’t think there was anyone who was in Faro and saw the performance against Portugal who wouldn’t feel that it was a very strong performance.”

Kenny’s role as national manager beyond next summer will be decided, Hill confirmed, at the FAI board meeting following the final World Cup qualifier in Luxembourg on November 14th.

No sooner, no later.

"One thing I will say about the board, over the last 10 months that I have been involved, is that there is a really open process there so everyone will be able to give their view," said Hill with an unnamed reference to former ceo John Delaney. "This isn't about one person. It isn't the view of one person, it is the view of 12 men and women.

“Hopefully we will do that in a calm and considered manner.”

On Irish football's ongoing culture wars, where staunchly pro- and anti-Kenny camps continue to clash, the wonder is how much media chatter penetrates a new FAI board of directors that Brian Kerr has already stated some of whom do not know if a ball is "pumped or stuffed".

“You have commented on and you have experienced the crowd at the Aviva on Tuesday evening against Serbia,” said Hill. “I thought their overall contribution to the game, if you like, and to the spectacle was astonishing. I thought it was really very very positive and I don’t think there was anyone who was there, and who saw the depth of feeling and passion of that crowd, that they were absolutely willing the team on to win.

“There is no reason why that shouldn’t be replicated for the rest of the games we have in 2021 and beyond. That is part and parcel of the uniqueness of the Irish national team football.”

Whether this was a rare audience or sign of the times presumably depends on the next commercial announcement.