Sporting administrator or celebrity?

The recent appearances of Football Association of Ireland (FAI) chief executive John Delaney in the media have been perplexing to say the least.

An administrator at the head of a major Irish sporting body, he has suddenly morphed into a celebrity and one cannot help but view the grotesque transformation as a cynical ploy.

In the immediate aftermath of the Republic of Ireland’s 7-0 defeat of Gibraltar on October 11, Delaney was the first guest on RTÉ’s Saturday Night Show. The chat show, hosted by comedian and columnist Brendan O’Connor, is ostensibly a light entertainment platform, whose guests are drawn from across the spectrum, and Delaney was joined on the card by presenter Angela Scanlon, actress Jane Seymour, screenwriter David Nicholls, and actors Gary Lydon and Peter Coonan.

Over the course of the brief interview, O’Connor quizzed the FAI CEO on Ireland’s emphatic win over Gibraltar, the forthcoming clash against Germany and his repaired relationship with Roy Keane, before excruciatingly moving on to the more personal topics of his love life and the deteriorating health of his father.

Interestingly, Delaney, who is normally seen in his chief executive’s attire of suit and tie, was sporting an open shirt and blazer; an attempt, perhaps, to soften his image as ‘hard-nosed administrator’, but ultimately something that merely exacerbated the overbearing sense of desperation that gripped the occasion. The 46-year-old smiled throughout and, although flashes of sheepishness were apparent, his responses were measured as he confessed that he was, in fact, the happiest he had been for some time.

But why does this need to be public knowledge? While an individual’s personal happiness is certainly something that should not be belittled, it is frankly strange to see Delaney’s personal life being magnified thus and questions have naturally arisen over the motivation behind such horribly contrived public displays.

Irish sports website, for example, ran a revealing piece charting the reaction to Delaney’s appearance on the show on Twitter, which demonstrates exactly how the metamorphosis has been received. One is led to wonder why this man – the FAI CEO no less – is being ushered into the vacuous arena of a celebrity-worshipping media. Is he courting it, or has it been foisted upon him? Either way, it leaves a bad taste.

The skeptical reaction is easily understandable, for the Saturday Night Show appearance is Delaney’s latest lurid flirtation with the media, following a ‘behind-the-mask’ type of documentary by the Sunday Independent’s features and entertainment writer Barry Egan, stupidly named ‘John the Baptist’.

That documentary provoked similar reactions as the Irish football-loving public recoiled aghast with a mixture of confusion and contempt for the manner in which Delaney was being placed on a pedestal without having to face the hard questions.

Indeed, when he was faced with the hard questions in an interview on RTÉ radio’s ‘Game On’ programme a few weeks ago, Delaney quickly grew impatient with the line of inquisition, suggesting that he can only answer the same queries so many times as well as rolling his eyes at constant criticism over his relatively substantial salary.

There is no doubt that he is affable on a personal, individual level and that he has contributed much time to grassroots functions, but Delaney will soon realise that no amount of spin and no amount of indulgence in the superficial fawning induced by a fatuous media can make the tough questions disappear.

The so-called “difficult child” that is the League of Ireland continues to struggle, politics continues to threaten underage football, and it should be stressed that despite picking up maximum points in the first two games, qualification for Euro 2016 is far from guaranteed.

Our attentions should be focused on what Delaney is doing, as the head of the FAI, to address these issues – and make no mistake about it, football-lovers are entitled to know – not what’s going on in his bloody bedroom.

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