COMMENT:  If this is a job application for Quinn and the group it’s hard to see how they will reach an interview stage.

Article by Michael Hayes - @thegegenpress


As the walls came tumbling down in FAI headquarters in Abbotstown just a few months ago, Niall Quinn was being cast as the saviour to the woes of Irish football.  The former international striker had already outlined ambitions to revamp the domestic league back in February and by the time John Delaney exited stage left in March Quinn was ruling himself out as the next CEO of the FAI.  Life moves pretty fast in Irish football.

Quinn fronts a group who we now know have dubbed themselves the “Football in Ireland Visionary Group,” a name the Iona Institute would be proud of.  It’s a moniker that intentionally sounds full of authority but with little to back it up if their recently released FAI review and analysis of football in Ireland document is anything to go by.  

Quinn was present at the Irish Football Stakeholder Forum at the Mansion House in Dublin last Friday representing the group, an event hosted by Minister for Sport Shane Ross, who called the event “a crisis meeting”.  Others present included supporter’s groups, volunteers, players, coaches and managers, but Quinn’s high profile gave him top billing in some respects.

Back in February Quinn said plans were afoot to put together a firm proposal for revamping the domestic league within six months, and if we are being kind maybe a rush to put together the proposal in advance of the stakeholders’ meeting contributed to the document in question appearing more like an early draft.  A more realistic description is that the group’s report has all the feel of a last-minute college assignment, where considerations of layout, design and content are all eschewed in an effort to meet a deadline.

Kieran Foley, a former League of Ireland footballer himself, is listed as the author of the report on behalf of the group.  Since his playing days Foley has worked in marketing and management consultancy, and according to the report Foley “was the founder and creater (sic) of the only third party owned cricket franchise league in the World”.

Other notable “Visionary Group” members include Lesley Spuhler, the CEO of Sunderland AFC Foundation of Light, a registered charity with links to Quinn’s former club, and sports lawyer Barry Lysaght.  

What is striking here is that presumably the members of the group signed off on the document before it was released.  The report is littered with mis-spellings and meaningless sentences, amateur Microsoft Word graphics and pixelated images.  If this is a job application for Quinn and the group it’s hard to see how they will reach an interview stage.

Even allowing for the adage of not judging a book by its cover, it’s hard to look beyond the layout.  Partially because it’s so poorly put together, but primarily because there’s not much else there to scrutinise.  Behind the buzzwords and platitudes - “governance structures”, “transparency”, “key learnings” – there’s not much meat on the bones, leaving you to wonder if this really is the culmination of months of work on behalf of the group.

There is no shortage of aspirations set out in the document, some of which have already caught the attention of the public.  After all, who can disagree with the idea of “developing sustainable funding and income models to make sure new facilities pay for themselves” or having “a viable and profitable League of Ireland by 2026”, with a League of Ireland team reaching the Champions League group stages by 2027?

There is however a big difference between stating what you want to achieve and outlining how you want to achieve it, with the latter conspicuous in its absence throughout the report.  The headline-grabbing objectives fail to mask a lack of detail.

In a section entitled “Commercial Partnerships and Media”, the report reads “The restructuring of the league to provide for more commercial opportunity as well as the broadening of participation, the management services for infrastructure, the broader commercial programmes through community projects, more multinationals, wider ability for grant development”.  How any of this will be achieved – even allowing for the sentence to lack any kind of coherence – isn’t outlined.

The most worrying aspect of the report is the feeling that this doesn’t read like an application to be involved in the future of Irish football – it reads like an ultimatum.  In outlining the self-appointed scope of work of the group, the report states that “should the Reform committee approve the guidelines and scope of work, then the group would develop a larger framework that encapsulates a complete structure to outline the guidelines as set out”, essentially acknowledging that the group haven’t provided the means to achieve any of their proposed objectives, but if handed the keys to Abbotstown they will do so.  

After the initial positivity garnered by Quinn and the group in bringing the issue of domestic football, and the health of the game in Ireland more generally to prominence, the report has brought many football fans back down to Earth.  

While many expected a coherent plan given Quinn’s statements in the last number of months, a cynic would argue that after all the public posturing the so-called “Visionary Group” have instead made a smash-and-grab attempt at wrestling some power away from FAI headquarters.  In many ways it’s the kind of move that wouldn’t look out of place in Abbotstown, the sort of tactic that is as familiar in Irish football as “putting them under pressure”. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

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