The mood music that is providing a soundtrack to the relationship between government and the FAI stepped up a beat again yesterday after the three new independent directors of the Association, together with existing members of the board met Ministers Shane Ross and Brendan Griffin at the Department of Tourism, Transport and Sport in Dublin.
Roy Barrett, Catherine Guy and Liz Joyce have dived into their new responsibilities and their presence was warmly, almost effusively welcomed by the Ministers.
“It was good to have the opportunity to meet with the new Chairman and Directors so soon after their appointment,” said Minister Ross.
“We had an encouraging and frankly, a warm discussion today. I am now confident that the new Board is committed to delivering the necessary governance reforms and ensuring that a stronger association emerges for the good of Irish football and all who love it.”
This description of the meeting was in stark contrast to the heated talks that had taken place just before Christmas. There was a swipe at those who had gone before and outgoing President Donal Conway was surely pleased to have stayed away again when Ross continued “The old guard has now been excised and healthy regeneration of the FAI can commence.”
“We can now consider how best the Government can assist the FAI in moving on.”
That final phrase of assistance is most likely to come in the main in the form of a guarantee to enable the FAI to secure a refinancing deal with Bank of Ireland which would secure its long term sustainability and the maintenance of positions across the board in UEFA competitions.
The restoration of actual funding, which mainly goes towards the kind of societal programmes such as Football For All, Late Night Leagues and community football development can follow and there could yet be an early indication of the newfound warmth in the relationship if football projects are included in today’s announcement of funding for large scale infrastructure programmes.
Minister Brendan Griffin added his commentary on the meeting saying that “I am hopeful that we will see some early signs of that change which will go some way towards rebuilding public trust in the association.”
The two Ministers will shortly be side by side announcing the €50 million of grants towards major projects. If that includes support for projects put forward by Finn Harps and Drogheda United, in addition to support for the redevelopment of Dalymount Park, then the new Chair and directors will feel that they have had a winning start in the first 48 hours of their engagement with the sport.