Delaney is a great and fearless leader

In the last couple of days, I’ve received several emails containing links to various YouTube montages chronicling Ireland’s improbable qualifying campaign for Euro 2012. Of course, my favourite clip isn’t Richard Dunne doing a very passable Paul McGrath impression in Moscow. It’s not even Keith Andrews starting the ball rolling against Estonia last Friday. Nope, my most cherished piece of footage, the one I just keep watching over and over again, involves FAI Chief Executive John Delaney out on the pitch at the A. Le Coq Arena in Tallinn, conducting the fans, punching his fist in the air and making the “let’s go for a few beers” motion with his right hand.
Watching Delaney do his jigs of delight brought back so many memories of his vital contributions in this campaign. Much like the fans cheering (if laughing at somebody sounds like cheering) him on in Estonia, I recalled his last-ditch tackle in Moscow on the night he helped keep the mighty Russians at bay. My mind filled with other cameos of his magnificence. The quality of his passing away to Armenia. The memorable way he imposed his will against the Andorrans like some sort of modern-day Roy Keane. Flicking through the highlight reel of Delaney’s on-field magic (has Trapattoni ever had such a trusted lieutenant in the fray?), I thought to myself: Who else is more entitled to celebrate with the fans than this guy?

Inspired by repeated viewing of Delaney’s antics, I decided to go searching YouTube for more vintage carry-on of this ilk. I couldn’t resist the urge to look for more clips showing the heads of successful sports organisations celebrating on the field of play, in front of legions of adoring fans. I started off trolling for Frank Murphy footage. Given the fact he’s been secretary of the Cork County Board through so many triumphs, I figured there must be no end of videotape of Murphy. I quickly found the classic shot of Jimmy Barry Murphy climbing up the railing on Hill 16 with Liam McCarthy in his hand back in 1999. Surely, his namesake must have done something similar through the years.

Imagine my shock. Picture my surprise. I could find no extant video of the head honcho in Cork GAA celebrating on the field of play. Or doing a Delaney as it’s now called. Of course, many will see this as a sign Murphy just isn’t as passionate about his games as the FAI’s top man. A fair point. Especially since there are no mobile phone montages showing Murphy conducting the Cork fans or buying them drink in pubs before big matches. I know Murphy has always divided people in Cork and now I understand why. Where was he when all those All-Irelands were being celebrated? Why wasn’t he out there on the field milking some applause for himself? We should be told.
Then again, I wondered whether this was maybe just a Cork thing. Perhaps other counties are more demonstrative than us. I decided to give Kilkenny a try. They’ve won a lot (okay, an awful lot) in the past few years. There had to be video of the county board chairman or secretary out on the grass in Croker, playing up to the black and amber hordes following one or other of their (traditionally lucky) All-Irelands. I was appalled and dismayed to discover nobody had ever managed to film Pat Dunphy (currently vice-chairman but previously secretary) climbing over the hoarding at the end of a single All-Ireland victory to throw shapes in front of the fans.

I was similarly disappointed when it came to Andy Kettle. As chairman of the Dublin County Board, you’d think Kettle would have been revelling in Pat Gilroy’s team defeating Kerry back in September. Well, if he was, there were no public displays of emotion. There are thousands of clips of the celebrating Dubs, shot from every available angle in the stadium that memorable day. And Kettle isn’t in any of them. No jumping around, no fist-pumping in front of Hill 16. Not a single jig of delight or drinking motion to drive the supporters wild with delight.

What is wrong with Kettle and all these other people who run the various sporting bodies? Do they not understand the significance of the roles they have played? Why did they not seize their opportunities to remind the fans of their immense and often undervalued contributions to the on-field success? Surely, all these sports administrators can see that failing to grab a piece of the limelight for themselves is quite ridiculous. In this day and age, the men in the suits and ties are every bit as important as the talent that crosses the white lines to compete.
At this point in my research, I came to a realisation. Maybe the GAA is just different, a bit backwards coming forwards and all that. So, I switched focus to international soccer. England recently qualified for Euro 2012. As Chief Executive of Club England, an entity within the association that is solely to do with the senior squad, Adrian Bevington is the man in the Delaney role there. But, you’ve guessed it. After hours of research and YouTubing, I could not find any upload showing Bevington bigging it up with the English fans after qualification was clinched against Montenegro in Podgorica.

Such dereliction of duty. That’s not the fit and proper behaviour of a man who really cares about his country and its followers. While Bevington should be ashamed of himself for not showing enough emotion for the cameras, all may not be lost for him. If the mooted Ireland-England friendly in Dublin comes off before the Euros next summer, at least the English supremo will get a close-up view of how a real, classy chief executive conducts himself at the Aviva Stadium. Should Ireland win that game, he may see what it truly means to do a Delaney. That’s a lesson in etiquette not available in any finishing school.


(first published in Evening Echo, November, 2011)

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