Just as it became abundantly clear how far the FAI really still is from getting to put its past behind it, general manager Noel Mooney says he is leaving the organisation this weekend, with "the stage set for a much stronger FAI to emerge".
Mooney will resume work at Uefa next Monday, after having completed his six-month secondment to his former employer out in Abbotstown.
Although he declined even to confirm his immediate successor's identity to The Irish Times, the imminent appointment of former Athletics Ireland CEO John Foley as interim chief executive has been known about for some time, and will be confirmed over the next day or so.
Foley, whose appointment, like Mooney’s before it, has been regarded as controversial by some because of previous involvement with the association, is seen as someone with strong links to key figures in Sport Ireland and good contacts in Government, and fits well with what Mooney says is the next stage of the FAI’s journey out of crisis, the normalisation of relations with the Government.
“The FAI has continued funding all of its programmes as best it could in the absence of Government money,” says Mooney, “but Uefa have been extremely useful; it has been a Uefa six months, and from that point of view it was useful that I was a conduit but now that changes.
“The emphasis has to come back on restoring Government funding, and my successor will have to work on rebuilding those relationships. We need the annual funding of €2.7 million back; we need the funding that hasn’t been paid this year, which is more than €1 million.
“We are bending over backwards,” he claims. “Even the fact that I am going back to Uefa after six months to the day is intended to convey the message that we will do our utmost to satisfy people’s expectation of us being the best we can be.”
Unfortunately for the association, Minister for Sport Shane Ross has suggested he will not be happy until the two surviving members of the previous board, president Donal Conway and John Earley, depart, but the more immediate problem now may be the inability of the association to complete the appointment of its independent directors any time soon in light of the decision by Sport Ireland to refer the KOSI report to the Garda.
Speaking before that decision had been announced, Mooney suggested that the appointments were likely to follow quickly after the report’s publication, a date for which is now completely uncertain.
“Independent directors should come in on the back of that [KOSI],” he said. “If you are going to be an independent director you want a due diligence on the association, and KOSI can provide a lot of that.”
In the absence of KOSI the association’s accounts now look almost certain to provide the first reliable reflection of the state of the organisation’s current finances. The very fact that they will be seen as a fair assessment of the situation might be seen as progress in itself.
“I’m not an accountant,” says Mooney when it was put to him that the new numbers were likely to call into question quite a few of the old ones, “but it depends sometimes how you book things”.
“They were audited by reputable companies, but there is a big difference between profit and cash. And cash, without wanting to sound like somebody from The Office or anything, is king. The facts are that we would have known that the FAI is struggling in terms of cash flow for a long time. That was no secret.
“If you go back to the Vantage Club, the selling of the premium seats in the stadium did not work the way it should have, and from that moment on the FAI was in a spiral of trying to raise cash...although in defence of the association it was trying to raise that cash for the continued development of football.
Despite those historical issues, ongoing “challenges” and Paul Cooke’s recent suggestion that the accounts will “shock people”, Mooney suggests that the financial outlook is not quite as bad as has been suggested by some. He insists that the FAI will have the resources to meet its “core” needs over the coming years even if it may have to be “more focussed”.
Uefa has already provided substantial support, and what will be the third restructuring of the association’s stadium debt is nearing completion, he suggests; key pillars in a strategy aimed at stabilising things and allowing it over time to start operating in a more conventional manner.
He says things would be helped, of course, by Ireland qualifying for the European Championships, with participation set to be worth €5 million net to the organisation based on the minimum €9.25 million that the association would get for being involved plus various sponsorships and bonuses less the cut the players will get and expenses.
“Aspects of sponsorships would kick in that would mean extra revenue and then you get additional sponsorships around that from different sources,” says Mooney.
“Costs would be reduced because of it being staged in Dublin, and we have done a deal with the players, who have been very good. The money has not been budgeted for, but obviously it would provide the board with welcome options.”
Whether the board gets them will not become known until March, and given the speed at which things are moving right now that must seem like a very long way away.