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FAI could stand for ‘Find an Interim’ as Jonathan Hill’s exit adds to Irish football farce

Shambolic search for a new Republic of Ireland manager lurches on, while instability has done little to repair reputational damage of the John Delaney years

There was a time, you’ll recall, when the relentless search for players with grandparents born on these shores had detractors declaring that FAI stood for “Find an Irishman”. After Monday morning’s news that Jonathan Hill was stepping down from his role as the association’s chief executive, the barb was widely edited to “Find an Interim”.

Mind you, that seems less like a jibe and more like an accurate enough description of the chief function of the FAI of late. After all, it has had to find an interim chief executive (David Courrell), an interim Republic of Ireland men’s manager (John O’Shea), and an interim director of marketing and communications (Murray Barnett) in the last four months alone after the departures of Hill, Stephen Kenny and Louise Cassidy.

Whoever is tasked with attaching name plates to those office doors out in Abbotstown must be worn out.

And if Marc Canham fails to unveil a well-ish received new men’s manager this week, the FAI’s position of director of football might soon have “interim” preceding it too.


Courrell, the FAI’s chief operating officer until Monday morning, has now become the FAI’s fifth interim CEO in five years, Rea Walshe, Noel Mooney, Paul Cooke and Gary Owens having all filled the role after John Delaney’s departure from the job in March 2019 and before Hill was appointed as his permanent successor in November 2020.

Seven chief executives, permanent or temporary, in five years represents the mother of all turnovers and no little instability, especially during a spell when the reputational damage of the Delaney years was in desperate need of repair.

There was, though, an inevitability about Hill’s exit after the pressure mounted on him in the last few months, his less-than-convincing efforts to explain accepting a payment of almost €12,000 in lieu of untaken holidays in front of a Public Accounts Committee in Leinster House in February weakening his position further.

When Cooke, the FAI president, said that his confidence in Hill had been “challenged by the events”, there was a notion that it was a matter of when and not if the Englishman would vacate his role. And here we are.

While the position of the CEO, the FAI’s finances, its efforts to develop the grassroots of the game in Ireland, and so on, come under no little scrutiny, it’s been the rather shambolic attempts to find successors for Vera Pauw and Stephen Kenny in the last while that caused the bulk of the eye-rolling.

And if O’Shea is appointed Kenny’s permanent successor this week, then the two processes will be uncanny mirror images of each other.

A reminder: Canham said 12 candidates had been identified for the women’s job, and that list would be cut to three before an appointment was made. Eileen Gleeson, he said, categorically, was not a contender because she wished to resume her role as the FAI’s Head of Women and Girls’ Football after her interim spell in charge of the senior team ended. December: Gleeson left her role as the FAI’s Head of Women and Girls’ Football to become Pauw’s permanent successor.

And the lads’ job? Ah look, you know yourself. When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said “huh?” in response to news last week that he had been installed as favourite for the job, the nation’s football-loving folk poured themselves another brandy. The process has become one of Irish sport’s longer-running jokes.

Now, maybe Canham, who firmly suggested that O’Shea was but a filler-in, has had a diamond of an appointment up his sleeve all along, and for one reason or another just hasn’t been able to unveil him just yet.

But it was back in February that he declared the FAI was “near the end” of the manager-hunting process, and still we wait. And Hill had promised a new gaffer in time for that month’s Nations League draw. As Malachy Clerkin pointed out last Saturday, “the search has spanned two taoisigh, two GAA presidents, two lost referendums even”.

If O’Shea is behind the curtain at the big reveal, then, yes, it will smack of Gleeson’s appointment all over again. An interim manager who wasn’t a contender, before ascending to the throne. Although you’d imagine O’Shea getting the job would be a whole lot more warmly received than the appointment of a journeyman manager who wouldn’t know his Nathan Collins from his Nathan Carters.

Hill, ultimately, had to take responsibility for this shambles, even if those payment issues might have been the key driver behind his exit. His reign was meant to be a clean slate, a time when the FAI would bury the embarrassments of the past, but on they rumbled.

The FAI has promised “a structured search for a full-time successor” to Hill. All you can hope is that it goes a whole more smoothly than its efforts to replace Pauw and Kenny.

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times