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New FAI chief on mission for more accountability within the association

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Making his pitch: The FAI’s new chief executive Jonathan Hill has called for cultural improvements within the association. Photo: Sportsfile

Making his pitch: The FAI’s new chief executive Jonathan Hill has called for cultural improvements within the association. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Making his pitch: The FAI’s new chief executive Jonathan Hill has called for cultural improvements within the association. Photo: Sportsfile

Two months on from his official start date, FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill yesterday sampled a flavour of what he can expect from what he termed "the ecosystem".

The newcomer followed up a sizeable contribution to a two-and-a-half hour virtual annual general meeting with further musings during the Senior Council summit that followed.

Compared to a 19-minute gathering during the last days of his predecessor John Delaney's era, his introduction to the 79-strong forum was a marathon, lasting almost two hours.

It's not that matters weren't worth debating in the Delaney era but the appetite towards airing issues from the floor has spiked since his demise early last year.

Hill, at 57, comes into the job with a stellar track record in the business side of sport. The political dimension, for all his involvement with the English FA and Wembley Stadium, remained outside of his remit, so yesterday's interactions were an eye-opener.

Foremost on the agenda was reviewing the 2019 financial statements, yet much of the airtime was filled by queries around committee reforms due to be voted upon at an emergency general meeting on January 11.

Hill has gladly accepted an offer by his interim predecessor Gary Owens to remain on in a consultancy capacity to get the constitutional changes over the line but didn't resist the urge to apply some common courtesy around protocols when aggrieved members spoke of silence from Abbotstown.

When representatives from the Players Football Association of Ireland (PFAI), Ireland Supporters group and the women's football committee complained vociferously that correspondences submitted earlier this month weren't acknowledged or given a response, he stepped in.

"I will personally engage in the process from now," he said.

"I will make sure that culturally, as an organisation moving forward, we always acknowledge and respond to correspondence as it comes in.

"That's the right and polite thing to do."

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Force of change: FAI chairman Roy Barrett is leading the FAI’s governance reforms. Photo: Sportsfile

Force of change: FAI chairman Roy Barrett is leading the FAI’s governance reforms. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Force of change: FAI chairman Roy Barrett is leading the FAI’s governance reforms. Photo: Sportsfile

Cultural improvements were always foremost on Hill's to-do list, even if the financial mess he's inherited will remain the priority over the lifetime of his contract. Financial controller Alex O'Connell admitted the association won't reach a cash-positive position until at least 2023.

"I'm from Leeds, and I will say it as it is," Hill said at the start of his presentation.

"I am very happy to lead from the front and not afraid to make tough decisions.

"We want to create a culture that rewards a commitment to good governance practices.

"It's all about acting out those policies, not just having them on paper.

"I do genuinely want more people to take responsibility and accept accountability for their area of expertise.

"The association cannot be about one person. I'm already seeing a move towards a broader, more collective approach in every conversation I have.

"I've come into Irish football with no baggage. I've brought no history to the table and with no specific pre-existing relationships, be it within football, government or with the media.

"I think, from the feedback I've had so far, that it's seen by many as being a real positive.

"The pace of change is intense and the complexity of change is significant.

"I have a deep engagement with governance and compliance issues, which is important when our chairman Roy Barrett mentions 164 recommendations that we're looking to implement."

Most of those, stemming from the Sport Ireland-commissioned reports, have yet to be implemented but Hill does see himself having a role in the League of Ireland's future.

Before the onset of the pandemic, there was much debate around the domestic league, especially as Kieran Lucid's all-island concept enjoys the support of most top-flight clubs either side of the border.

"During my time at IMG, I was part of the process of creating both the Scottish Premier League and Eredivisie leagues from afresh.

"I'm very hopeful that those experiences will be useful as we talk about how to develop both the men's and women's national leagues."

Once he's on the ground in Dublin, Hill will be appraised of extra issues but his first day at school - despite it being from a virtual classroom - might, at least, have regained some trust from the foot soldiers.

Key numbers

€94m: Total creditors, includes increased deferred income drawn down from future revenue streams such as UEFA's centralised TV rights deal.

€76m: Total liabilities owed at end of 2019. Of this, €23m is due to be repaid within the next two years.

€9.5m: Guaranteed prize-money Ireland missed out on for failing to make it through the Euro 2021 play-offs.

2040: New final repayment date on the €28.5m Aviva Stadium mortgage.

2025: Final repayment of €100,000 monthly instalments to Sports Direct on a €6.5m sponsorship they invoked an option on to abort in April 2019 before commencement.

164: Number of recommendations arising from the KOSI and Governance Review Group reports. The remaining 93 have to be closed out within a year.

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