FAI Chief Executive John Delaney was the special guest at the Donegal Sports Star awards night in the Mount Errigal Hotel on Friday night and he was also the most relaxed man in the place.
Delaney, known for his ability to mingle with the grassroots, could just as easily been mistaken for a politician who was weeks away from a local or general election.
Speaking on the stage on the night in an interview with MC, Chris Ashmore, Delaney recalled his great interest in sport, growing up in Tipperary.
“I love all sports. Ten county medals in Tipperary, four for Gaelic football, two for hurling and four for soccer. I played in a Munster Gaelic football final many years ago. One of my favourite sports in the world is hurling and I loved playing it.
“When you play sports, that great, much better than administration, especially team sports where you can win and lose together.”
He recalled his great memories of trips to Donegal: “I do love Donegal. I remember being out on Arranmore Island. It’s easier to get out of jail than to get out of Arranmore Island. They kidnap you out there, Gerry Early’s bar, I think is what is is. We got the Arranmore band to play at the Aviva.
“There’s a great story after that game, I think it was against Austria. Gerry Early came up to me afterwards asking how did the band play; ‘they were better than our f------ team anyway’,” I replied.
“Football and soccer and sport is very strong in this county. You just have to see the award winners tonight. Having the No. 1 in the world of boxing. It’s a great credit to the county and the people. It’s a special county and I always love it coming up here.
The FAI chief recalled the famous train journey of Irish fans in Slovakia and almost set off alarm bells at the media table when describing the charated Irish train arriving at the station with people hanging out of windows and plenty of noise, when he said the Slovakian police thought it was English fans, but he quickly responded that he had plenty of respect for English fans too!
Delaney was high in his praise of the Donegal players. “Shay Given, probably the best Irish goalkeeper of all time; Packie Bonner, probably the two best ever Irish goalkeepers” and of Seamus Coleman, he said: “Apart from being a great footballer, he’s having a great career with Everton but he’s an absolute gentleman, a smashing boy; a credit to his county and country.”
Looking forward to what is happening with Ireland, he felt that we have a good chance of qualifying, especially with a new management team in place.
“You have to have ambition if you want to get to the major competitions. To be fair we have punched above our weight for many years, but Martin (O’Neill) and Roy (Keane) and plenty of young players coming, I think we will be okay. If Donegal didn’t have the ambition, they wouldn’t have won the All-Ireland. You need people like Jimmy McGuinness; Davy Fitzgerald did it with Clare last year,” said Delaney.