FAI History Chapter 34 – Turmoil after Charlton’s departure
Ireland's failure to qualify for the UEFA Championship finals of 1996 illustrated how fickle is public support.
Jack Charlton presided over the most momentous period in Ireland's history, led the National team from the fringes of the international game to the very forefront of championship football and yet suddenly his stewardship was under critical examination.
The FAI, always sensitive to public opinion and conscious of the impact of results upon attendances, were left to consider the consequences of elimination from the UEFA Championship and the growing public debate. Their focus inevitably focused upon Charlton's position.
Conflicting opinions emerged for while there were those who favoured an immediate change, there were others who believed that Charlton's success had earned him the right to make his own decision.
The most popular view was that Charlton would announce his retirement early in 1996 but the FAI chose not to wait that long. He was invited to attend a meeting with the FAI officials in Dublin on December 21, 1995, and it was suggested to him that he announce his retirement after the meeting.
The manager later admitted that the position he was left in was a source of disappointment after so many years of fruitful co-existence with the FAI's officer board.
He was persuaded, however, to put his signature to a joint statement which said he was stepping down to make way for the appointment of a successor to lead Ireland in the qualification competition for the 1998 World Cup finals in France.
Charlton could leave with a proud record of achievement behind him. Ireland qualified for the first time for the finals of a major championship under his command and they contested three majors in total - the UEFA finals of 1988, the World Cup finals of 1990 and 1994.
His leadership was not without criticism, however. There were those who were not in favour of recruiting players who had not been born in Ireland but who qualified under FIFA's relationship rules. There were others who questioned the validity of his preferred methods and he was often accused of propagating ‘route one' football.
Charlton was almost ten years in charge of Ireland's National team and there were still others who looked beyond the senior international team and suggested he and his assistant, Maurice Setters, had not done enough to foster the development of young, Irish-born players through the U21 team.
Opinions certainly differed on the quality of the cloth weaved by Charlton and his team but there was no denying the efficacy of the product he developed.
The game was booming in Ireland and the growth of the game through the provinces was spectacular and sustained.
His legacy was, by any standards, a rich one and has been enriched further with the passing of time by the difficulties experienced by successive managers seeking comparable results at senior level.
Statistics help to illustrate just how spectacular that success was. Ireland were ranked number seven in the world at one point and the results that earned that advance captured the hearts and minds of the youth of the country.
The number of players registered with the FAI almost trebled between 1986 and 1995, the total of clubs affiliated to the Association almost doubled.
Such a healthy picture was not mirrored, however, within the administrative structure, for the months following Charlton's departure featured a series of major meetings and much controversy at the Merrion Square headquarters of the FAI.
The month of February, 1996, was a critical one in the history of the FAI as knowledge of internal difficulties were exposed to the general public. There were reported difficulties between the professional staff at Merrion Square and the five honorary officers who formed the major power bloc within the organisation.
The evidence that all was not well within the administration was confirmed as changes at the top came quickly. The Association's Accountant, Michael Morris, announced his resignation early in 1996 and he was quickly followed by the General Secretary/Chief Executive Sean Connolly.
Joe McGrath, Director of Coaching, departed to take up a position in New Zealand and the Shelbourne chairman, Finbarr Flood, stood down from the Executive Committee.
The depth of division within the administration was made public on March 8, 1996, when a marathon meeting of the FAI Senior Council was held at the Westbury Hotel, Dublin. The Council had before it a motion from Bohemians FC and the Schoolboys FAI calling for the resignation of the President, Mr. Louis Kilcoyne.
There were several other resignations in the weeks before the meeting - Pat Quigley, Senior Vice President, Des Casey, Hon. Secretary, Michael Hyland, Vice President and Joe Delaney, Hon. Treasurer.
Each of these five officers made presentations to the Council at the meeting, which stretched for nine hours into the small hours of the following morning.
At its conclusion the FAI announced they had voted not to accept the resignations of Messrs Quigley, Hyland and Casey. The vote of no confidence in the President was carried and with the departure of Messrs Kilcoyne and Delaney, the FAI had lost two of its most senior and most experienced officers.
The new officer board had no shortage of applicants to fill the position left vacant by Jack Charlton. A short list of six consisted of four former Irish internationals in Mick McCarthy, Joe Kinnear, Kevin Moran and Liam Brady as well as Dave Bassett and Mick Walker.
McCarthy had captained Ireland in 22 of his 57 international appearances and was a favoured son under Charlton. His appointment was, in a sense, evidence of the respect the FAI had for Charlton for it was common belief that he was the preferred choice of the former manager as successor.
McCarthy resigned his position as manager of Millwall to take up the Irish job. He appointed Ian Evans as his assistant and nobody doubted that he had a major re-building job on his hands to orchestrate the smooth transition from a distinguished group of mature players to a younger and more vigorous squad.
His task was not an easy one and was aggravated by the storm of controversy that crashed about FAI headquarters in Merrion Square in the months after his succession.