Cut John Delaney and, like all of us, he’ll bleed. That’s just one of several noteworthy sentiments which readers will have drawn from the FAI Chief Executive’s ‘one on one’ interview with the Sunday Tribune last weekend.
Garnered from three hours of tape recordings, reporter Miguel Delaney (not related to his subject) attempted to eke out the ‘real’ John Delaney during the course of a day spent following the FAI’s top man on the job.
And the Tribune scribe has fared as well as anyone has when it comes in portraying John Delaney the man as well as John Delaney the administrator.
Delaney, who turned 41 last Thursday, said the game is improving where it matters most – at juvenile and junior levels.
“I’ve put this to people many times, the success of the Charlton era masked the underdevelopment of the game whereas the last five or six years, the lack of success if you like since 2002, has masked the development of the game,” he said.
“The man on the street who’s not involved with football, well he’ll be happy today because we beat Cyprus. He won’t be affected by the development of the game because he’s not involved with it. And I keep coming back to that.
“Even through the last campaign, there were still emails, faxes, letters in support… they’re the audience that matter most to me and they’re in a very good place at the moment. They’ve been through the good and bad and now see the progress, the infrastructure. People who judge the association purely on the performance of the national team, that’s wrong. But it’s understandable.”
With the Republic of Ireland off to so positive a start in the World Cup qualifying campaign, the memories of ‘Delaney out’ signs and cat-calls for his head at Croke Park have somewhat faded.
But he’s not forgotten what it felt like to be on the receiving end of such flak, as well as what former manager Steve Staunton endured in his final weeks in the hot seat.
“It was a difficult time, I’m not going to hide from that,” said Delaney. “Nobody’s made of granite… Stuff like that [the ‘Delaney out’ sign]; well it’s not pleasant is it? You don’t know the people, they don’t know me. It’s not the reaction I was getting from the grassroots.
“Fellas will do that but the same fella last night might put an arm around you and say it’s going great. It’s not pleasant and not pleasant for those close to you.”
And what of Staunton? “He’s a very good man, I’m thrilled he got a job at Leeds and you know, there were obviously a lot of negatives, but the way he brought younger players like the Kevin Doyles through will stand to him as a positive.
“But the atmosphere that night [against Cyprus at Croke Park] was vile…awful. I mean his dad had just died and you’re aware of all those things, you really are,” he added.
“You look at it and away to Slovakia we were a minute away from our best ever competitive run, five wins in a row – admittedly, two were San Marino. There was a bubble period but the late goal in Slovakia turned it all back. And I think the tipping point was Cyprus at home and to see Irish supporters goad their team. You knew for everybody’s sake we had to change things.”
He used the interview to reassert that the top job in Irish soccer administration was one he had never particularly craved.
“Chief executive was never on my agenda. I never truthfully asked for it, I was actually asked by our council. When I went for treasurer I asked and I got it. I was very happy being treasurer and I could get a lot of effective work done.
“But when we had difficulty, Milo Corcoran asked me would I take it on an interim basis. I asked for time and at a council meeting, something like 25 delegates stood up and asked me.
“It became very apparent that if I didn’t take it I’d probably have to go altogether because whoever got it would be in my shadow. So I had to make up my mind – go through an interview process! – and came out the right side. Thankfully, I’ve never regretted it.”
As for unwinding, well, there’s not much time for that because “there’s so much in football”.
Added Delaney: “Kids I suppose are great. I do like to read but I don’t get as much time as I used to because you’re reading files and documents. If you reflect on it though, it’s an unusual time to get the job.
“The move to Abbotstown, taking over the league, building a stadium, bidding for Uefa tournaments, developing the game, a whole series of huge appointments.
“If you write all that down it’s not a normal set of functions for a chief executive of a football association in that window, so it doesn’t leave a lot of free time. I’ll look forward to Christmas I must say, I always do.”
Read the interview in full at: www.tribune.ie/sport/