BY CHRIS MCNULTY
JOHN Delaney, the Football Association of Ireland’s Chief Executive, has hailed Donegal’s immense contribution to the game at all levels with the FAI.
Delaney was in Donegal on Monday with an FAI delegation to officially launch the FAI’s Festival of Football and Annual General Meeting – which are this year being staged in Donegal from July 15-21.
Donegal has plenty of voices in the administrative corridors at Abbotstown – and their contribution was acknowledged by Delaney at the County House in Lifford.
Buncrana man Jim McConnell is the Chairman of the FAI’s Domestic Committee and is a member of the high-powered ten-man Board of Control. Other Donegal men on the FAI council include Dessie Kelly, James Rogers, Bernard Foy and Alex Harkin.
Others, including Fanad man Liam McGroarty, who is the FAI’s head of Grassroots Football and who was also in attendance on Monday to perform the official welcome, are employed by the Association – and the county’s participation wasn’t lost on Delaney.
“It’s a huge proportion. We have 60 members in the council and we have a few of those from Donegal,” he told the Donegal News.
“We were looking today for the presentations the people who have been contributing. People always say about Packie Bonner, Shay Given and Seamus Coleman, but this is at every level from referees, to volunteers, to successes on the pitch at all levels.
“It is an extraordinary contribution that Donegal has made to the Football Association of Ireland.”
His father, Joe, was a high-powered member of the FAI Board before him – and he recalled some fond memories of former Finn Harps Chairman Fran Fields.
He said: “Fran was a character. My dad and him were great friends. Waterford came up to play Harps one time and dad wasn’t happy with the cheque Fran was giving him for the gate share. It was torn up three times before they settled.
“I met his wife, June, recently when she attended a launch we had in Abbotstown, portraits of former Presidents.
“Fran was a great football man. He was a great Finn Harps man, but also a great servant to the FAI.”
Delaney confirmed on Monday that €100,000 worth of equipment and funds would be made available to clubs in the county with a June 29th deadline for clubs to apply.
“The Club Support Scheme gives clubs in Donegal a unique opportunity to source equipment and grants. We will announce the grants during the week leading up to the AGM on July 21.”
The week-long Festival of Football includes 32 Club and League visits, where senior FAI officials will perform officials openings and engagements while a host of former internationals and Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni is also expected to pay a visit to Donegal during the week.
The event brings a huge economic boost to the county and Delaney says that the decision was ‘easy to make’ with the Donegal League celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
“Jim McConnell and Dessie Kelly were very much in favour of this, so there was a lot of lobbying going on,” said Delaney.
Liam McGroarty said that he was ‘honoured’ to be able to welcome the FAI to Donegal and the announcement was welcomed by Donegal Mayor, Cllr Noel McBride and County Manager Seamus Neely.
Cllr McBride said: “We are delighted that the FAI are bringing their Festival of Football and their AGM to Donegal. This provides us with a huge chance to showcase Donegal and what the soccer community here has achieved and the facilities it has to offer.
“The volunteer sector is absolutely vital. Without them, there would be a lot of empty pitches around the county.”
Those comments were echoed by Seamus Neely. He said: “This gives local clubs and leagues a massive boost and gives the rest of the country a chance to see first-hand the work that has gone on.
“This also will make a valuable contribution to tourism and is a welcomed boost in terms of visitor numbers to the county. There is a wonderful range of activities and facilities in Donegal.”