It's three days since the FAI opened its books to the world. The accounts have been examined. The despairing columns have been written. What term best encompasses the scale of the disaster: Rock bottom? The worst day in the history of Irish football? One of the darkest days in Irish sport? Pretty much everything has been said now and the natural - and daresay Irish - thing to do is to stoically move on to the next outrage, as if days like last Friday merely reminded us of the sorry things we always knew.
But we need to dwell upon this moment.
Watching Friday’s press conference from Abbotstown was like being transported back to the cataclysmic days of 2008, when Ireland’s economy went into the silage pit. Apologetic, embarrassed middle-aged men presenting jaw-dropping financial figures. Journalists speaking of the future in terms of austerity. And all the while, a culprit was somewhere else, unable to answer any questions but still haunting the scene.
And while the sums are vast to the point of unimaginable and the reality grimly inevitable, it is important to be angry - and stay angry - about what the Delaney years have brought upon Irish football. Since Ireland is a country that struggles so badly to demand accountability from the people who misuse power, our anger is all we have.
How can the (formerly) state-funded governing body of the most popular sport in this country, and the proprietors of a sporting object with vast sentimental value, the green jersey, be €55 million in debt?
The consequences for Irish football devastating and will be long-lasting. The FAI’s 200 employees face a very uncertain future. The game itself will be impaired. This is at a time when optimism around Irish football is nearing the unbridled levels of 1999. The timing couldn’t be worse.
With disasters on this scale, there’s blame by the bucketload to go around, and it’s right to pour scorn on Delaney’s chums on the FAI board, his legions of supporters in grassroots football, the useful idiots who supported him across the entertainment and business media and the country’s gormless executive gombeen culture that deified his behaviour. But really the issue is and should remain the titanic mismanagement of Irish football at the top level.
For many, the most disturbing revelation was learning that Delaney negotiated a €465,000 pension for himself. How can a man who leads an organisation to the brink of insolvency be paid so generously to leave? We understand how contracts entitlements work, but it still boggles the mind,
But Ireland has never really done accountability when it comes to executive malfeasance. For the various financial crimes that contributed to the destruction of the Irish economy, four bankers received jail sentences of a combined total of 13 years. Is that commensurate for a €67.5 billion bailout and a decade of austerity that has devastated communities in this country? The Moriarty and Mahon tribunal reports tell interesting stories about corruption in Ireland. But many of the key players dispute its findings and are still involved in Irish public life.
So we’re left with our anger. But our anger can still prove productive. We can demand the name of John Delaney Park in Monaghan be changed. We can demand that any FAI board members elected during the Delaney era step aside. The most important minute of Irish football this season happened against Georgia in March, when fans aired their displeasure with the Delaney regime by littering the Aviva pitch with tennis balls. Moments later, Conor Hourihane scored a free kick. There was frisson in the air as that protest began. The goal was a response, of sorts. Fans were ignored and muted during the Delaney years. They need to be a major part of whatever comes next.
Yesterday's Sunday Times reported that a 'special task force' from the Criminal Assets Bureau is being assembled at Garda HQ to investigate the FAI's financial management over the past few years. Those investigations must run their course. In the mean time, here's a separate question that has nothing to do with accountancy. What would be a fair punishment for a group of people who drove their national football association to the point of bankruptcy? If the God of the Old Testament ran the show, the people who got us here would never be able to watch an Ireland match again. A crueller god might force them to watch nothing but Ireland matches for their rest of their lives, specifically Ireland-Georgia games.
The wait for accountability will be tiring, which is why we need football.