The infamous FAI hearing at the sport and transport committee of April 2019, since known as the Morning of the Long Pause, marked a turning point in the fortunes of many of the participants, though no-one realised that at the time.
The strange circumstances — busful of TDs, asteroid strike — which led to the surprise general election of May 2019 were almost overshadowed by the results of the election itself, but it’s generally accepted that Michael Healy-Rae was an unusual choice as Minister for Sport in the next administration, but history has been kind to the Kerry Deputy.
His proposal to move the Aviva Stadium to a new site just west of Kilgarvan was seen at the time as ‘stroke politics’, but the advent of global warming, and the elevated site of the stadium, means it is the only large venue in western Europe which is not under several feet of water.
Tourists travel from all over the world — parts which are not flooded, at any rate — to visit the stadium and to take in the motto carved above the main concourse: I TOLD YOU GOD CONTROLS THE WEATHER.
Delaney also went from strength to strength after the committee meeting, despite leaving the FAI within days. Within 12 months he was head of UEFA; within three years he was head of FIFA; within five years he had taken over the UN, his ascent boosted by the well-worn method of currying favour with the international equivalent of the junior leagues: the Burkina Fasos, the Bosnia and Herzegovinas.
Delaney’s subsequent canonisation came as no surprise to his countrymen, many of whom had resorted to touching the hem his garment for salvation, even as the gurgling floodwaters of the Atlantic rolled in over the Irish coast.
While it is true that Senator Mark Daly, as is well known, became Taoiseach some years after the Morning of the Long Pause, he stepped down mere months into his premiership. In a notorious incident on live TV, Daly was unable to name the post-Brexit political entity to the east of Ireland and resigned in embarrassment.
(Historians have made a case since then that Daly was simply unlucky: When he was asked the question there was a good deal of uncertainty as to whether Goveana or Johnsonland would be selected as Britain’s new title. FUBARatania, of course, was the eventual choice.)
The two politicians who put Delaney and the FAI on the spot at the meeting, Ruth Coppinger and Catherine Murphy, also left politics not long afterwards.
Coppinger famously took over the FAI itself, and even though her first six months were spent tracking down just how many bank accounts the organisation was operating, her tenure is now seen as a huge success, as well as the founding principle for the modern management practice known as What The Actual F**k Is Going On?
Catherine Murphy became head of UCD, where she became embroiled in another controversy with an odd FAI resonance. Murphy clashed with one-time soccer pundit Damien Duff on evolutionary biology in a series of debates known generally by Duff’s famous catch-phrase: the It Was The Dinosaurs That Did It controversy.
Duff’s insistence on blaming dinosaurs for all the world’s ills were his undoing, particularly his insistence that “they weren’t all bad” and “had made the trains run on time, at least”.
Incidentally, the €100,000 which began the controversy in the first place can still be seen. Piled high in dusty notes, the cash forms an object of veneration at the Cathedral of St John the Unscathed, which of course marks the entrance to the relocated Aviva in Kerry.
I had a few days off there last week, and on Friday I rejoined the sports world.
Wow. Israel Folau and his opinions. Seamus Harnedy and Conor Delaney’s reprieves. Conor McGregor ‘in the news’ (and we’ll leave it at that). Davy Russell’s classy salute to Kieran O’Connor. Racism allegations in schools Gaelic football. The Masters.
No shortage of events, then, even if you park the quotidian games-and-announcements, but the FAI appearance at that Oireachtas committee trumps everything.
Corollaries: the deafening silence at the time of writing on these matters from the likes of Stephen Kenny and Damien Duff, who had a lot to say about how other sports are governed not too long ago.
The GAA’s handling of the Liam Miller charity game last year showed a mortifying lack of charity, and Kenny and Duff and a few others weren’t slow in preaching about it. We probably can’t hear them now because the air doesn’t carry too well from the high moral ground. Also noted: that ability to separate yourself from the FAI, a magic power enjoyed by many in the ‘football family’ but which doesn’t extend to any other sport I’m aware of.
When a sports organisation cocks up fans of and participants in that sport tend to get a slagging. Them’s the rules. Yet soccer followers of all stripes can be heard claiming, with a straight face, the FAI doesn’t represent them. Nothing to do with us.
That’s ‘them’. I don’t disagree with their right to make the point, but I’d like to know how to get away with it.
At some point when I’m not quite as busy I must regale readers with some of my true tales from Oireachtas committees, having spent a decade of my own life attending them on a semi-regular basis.
The sports context was usually confined to some minister stretching a metaphor beyond all endurance or sense, or a quick aside in the Estimates about the money being allocated to sport (cough).
The people who watched the FAI meet the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Sport and rarely watch other committees — ie most of humanity — have missed some gems over the years. One of my favourite occasions was the foreign affairs committee which invited the French ambassador in for a chat.
There was a lot of rumbling beforehand about the tough questions he’d face on France’s nuclear programme, for instance, but the rumbling came to an abrupt stop when he arrived.
This is because a top French diplomat is about as good-looking, suave, persuasive and effortlessly charming as you’d imagine.
Nobody actually offered him parts of Ireland in which France could carry out nuclear testing, but for a while it was a close-run thing.
There’s nothing like living vicariously, which means the book I have in mind this week is ideal.
Outside magazine, and its online presence, outsideonline.com, is regular reading for your columnist, and not just for the beautiful suggestions for hiking gear, boots, etc (it matters not that I have no intention of hiking at all).
I now see that there’s now a book, Out There: The Wildest Stories from Outside Magazine; it’s been out a while but contributors of Susan Orlean’s calibre make it timeless. A brief description online refers to adventures “manning a poop boat”, for instance.
A poop boat. What else do you need to know?
Suave diplomats and poop boats alike to firstname.lastname@example.org