Four Potential Candidates for FAI CEO

The process to appoint a new CEO for the FAI will now begin in earnest following the appointment last night of three out of four new independent directors to the board.

It will be a daunting task to bring the Association back from the brink but one which would be an exciting opportunity for anyone fired up by the biggest of challenges.

The process will be independent and it may be that someone will come from a detailed search of the business environment, in the same way as Roy Barrett, Liz Joyce and Catherine Guy have been found, approached and persuaded to take on the roles of independent directors.

It will be complicated in a business context by the very sharp spotlight being trained on salary and benefits that will go with the job. The sins of the past in that regard will place a fairly low ceiling, in business leadership terms, on the new appointment.

That said there will be enough good people with a potential hunger to get the job done, and the positive set of skills and experience to do it.

It is common in the appointment of a new manager in football to draw up a list of potential candidates for the job.

And so, without any inside knowledge or bias here are four who either have been highlighted or might be considered to do it.

Niall Quinn has been mentioned in media reports due to his association with Roy Barrett on plans for a restructured League of Ireland that never fully came to fruition.

He has dismissed talk of taking on the role and instead perhaps being involved in a more voluntary role in helping restore confidence.

This would make sense given the need for a strong administration background rather than being seen as a ‘star’ appointment.

He has been the easy ‘go-to’ name in media reports but is unlikely for the role.

Paul Cooke has been in a temporary position as Executive Lead since December and as a Board member since July. As a former CEO of the Irish Daily Star and the Sunday Business Post he has good credentials from the business world and has been a key player in getting the Association to the position, it is in today, closer than might have been imagined to financial restructuring and survival.

He has a history in the FAI, but as a critic of the John Delaney era and his imprimatur as part of the ‘fully refreshed’ Board in the words of Minister Shane Ross, would appear to have absolved him of any past perception of association.

There is no indication he would be willing to take on the role but if he did it would mean stepping down from the Board. We do not yet know who the fourth independent director will be but in the Governance guidelines accepted from the Sport Ireland report of last summer, the FAI must have a gender balance minimum of four female directors in place by next July’s AGM.

If the fourth independent director is a woman then that has been achieved. If not then one of the existing directors will need to make way. It’s just something to bear in mind.

Sarah Keane is a favourite in Government circles and has been involved in not one but two successful ‘restoration of faith’ projects with the Olympic Federation of Ireland and Swim Ireland.

Her continued role in both would leave a huge void was she to come into the frame for a move across the Sport Ireland Campus but she would have a strong case.

Taking on Swim Ireland as CEO at the height of the crisis over abuse scandals was a baptism of fire for the lawyer but she has proven to be among the smartest sporting administrators over the last decade and a half.

Surviving the cull of ‘everyone involved’ as the Olympic Council of Ireland imploded in the wake of Rio 2016 ticketing and governance scandals, she emerged as the leader of a new cohort of individuals that have turned around an organisation that looked in similar danger of extinction as regards public trust as the FAI has been.

Keane is known to be a fan of football and this may be the case of the right time and the right person for the role.

Against that she has yet to run through a full Olympic cycle, she is still young and it may be that the role would be a better fit if it were to be in two years time as opposed to immediately. Then again, there are windows of opportunity…

Ciaran Medlar is a Partner at BDO and would certainly have the strong financial credentials to be considered. He has been involved around the sport as an adviser and negotiator, generally on the other side of the table to the FAI management and could certainly be seen as having a positive blend of interest and skill set to be an effective Captain steering the ship into calmer waters.

Understated, unfailingly polite, and clearly on top of the financial game, there is no doubt he would be a strong candidate from the business world.


These are only four of what could be 400 potential leaders to emerge. It promises to be a fascinating search over the coming weeks and months.

Read More: Financial restructure of FAI Moves Closer
Read More: Getting to Know the  three new Independent Directors of the FAI



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