Premier Division clubs recruit barrister to represent them in talks with the FAI

Michael Cush SC to represent clubs in talks on the recent Conroy Report

Dundalk players celebrate after capturing the league title for the second time in a row. John Delaney described the league as the Irish game’s “problem child”. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Dundalk players celebrate after capturing the league title for the second time in a row. John Delaney described the league as the Irish game’s “problem child”. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Premier Division Airtricity League clubs have written to the FAI to say that they wish to be represented by a senior barrister in the consultation process that is supposed to take place in the wake of the publication of the Conroy Report.

The association’s chief executive, John Delaney, wrote to clubs at the end of September requesting that they consult each other then come back to the association with a response to the 75-page report which made a range of recommendations on how to improve the senior game in Ireland.

With the association portraying the reaction to the report amongst clubs as favourable, the expectation was that, whatever about individual sticking points, the general tone of the response would be fairly compliant. But the fact that the clubs have responded through an umbrella body, the Premier Clubs Alliance (PCA) and recruited Michael Cush SC to represent them, suggests that the negotiations are set to be considerably more robust than initially anticipated.

Cush is a well known and highly respected barrister who has, amongst many other things, been involved in many hugely prominent commercial cases over the past decade. He is the chairman of the board of the National Gallery and has an active interest in sport, including football.

League’s structure

In its letter to Delaney, the PCA says that it wishes to have Cush represent it in its “dialogue” with the association over the league’s structure, rules and development. It says that Cush himself will write to the association suggesting a framework for talks which, it suggests, should begin quickly given the fact that Conroy suggests major changes starting next season.

The report envisages a reduction in the size of the top flight and a mid-season split in the division so as to engineer more games between the country’s leading clubs.

Some of the report’s key other recommendations were more aspirational in nature with support expressed for better marketing, the sale of television rights abroad and larger prize funds without any firm plan outlined as to how they might be achieved.

The clubs have not expressed an opinion at this stage on any of these objectives but many are believed to be frustrated and angry over the suggestion that they should continue to accept being kept in the dark over the finances of the league.

The association declines to share commercial information with them – the scale of sponsorship income and the like – supposedly on the basis of confidentiality clauses in contracts.

There is also a desire to see the league achieve at least some measure of autonomy as a result of growing dissatisfaction over the sweeping powers granted to the association under the terms of the league’s mandatory participation agreement. This enables Abbotstown to dictate almost every aspect of the running of the senior game without any comeback for clubs desperate to have to have a greater say in their own destiny.

The scale of the league’s prize money is a bone of contention as is the lack of investment in infrastructure. But beyond that there appears to be a general and growing level of annoyance over the lack of respect afforded to clubs with issues like delays in the payment of monies due, the related matter of the way fines are imposed and the general lack of consultation all mentioned as areas that need attention. Delaney’s description of the league as the Irish game’s “problem child” has clearly not helped matters.

All of the clubs in the Premier Division, including the two newly promoted sides, Wexford Youth and Finn Harps, are said to have been consulted and expressed their support for the PCA move which comes at a time that the finances of the FAI appear to be getting healthier.

Delaney has previously said that the association will return a healthy profit for 2015, something in the region of €6 million was predicted, even before the senior team’s strong finish to the qualification campaign.

After some very difficult years, the prize money earned from participation at Euro 2016 should guarantee continued progress over the coming 12 months.

After a period during which, for their part, many clubs were preoccupied with adjusting to their own reduced circumstances in the wake of the financial crash and appeared to accept, largely unquestioningly, the nature and extent of the association’s role, it seems that they are now determined to make the case for a better deal in the future .

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