NTSFL Secretary Ursula Scully

Ursula Scully running for FAI Vice-President

By Shane Brophy

Ursula Scully, secretary of the North Tipperary Schoolchildren’s Football League has been nominated to contest the position of Vice President of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI).

Scully, proposed by the SFAI, will be up against Paul Cook from the League of Ireland at the associations’ Annual General Meeting which will be held on May 23rd.

If she is successful, she will become the first female vice-president in the associations’ history, which would be a welcome boost to the profile of the FAI, which has taken such a battering over the past two years because of governance issues from the previous regime.

A native of Derry but a resident in Nenagh for the past 21 years where she runs Supermacs in Nenagh, Ursula describes herself as neither brave nor foolish to move further up the echelons of the FAI, considering the immense difficulties the association have found themselves in since March 2019.

She has been a board member of the FAI since December 2019 and has been heavily involved in the process of restructuring the governance procedures from the previous regime which led to the FAI being over €70 million in debt and relying on government support to remain solvent.

“The FAI have made huge strides over the past eighteen months in terms of governance reform,” Ursula revealed.

“We have an entire new general assembly, a new rulebook, a new constitution, all of that was voted in unanimously at the AGM last year. They have rewritten the entire rulebook for the want of a better word, and we work closely with the government, Sport Ireland, UEFA, FIFA.

“We have had to make savings, but we have done a lot of the hard work. There is still a long way to go but we have definitely done seventy percent of the work to date and the government and Sport Ireland are more than happy with where we are at.”

Indeed, such is the robustness of the new governance rules that all candidates for election have to be vetted fully and once those checks have been completed this Friday, only then can Ursula begin canvassing ahead of the election. Her involvement within the FAI, which also sees her on UEFA’s marketing committee, is a swift rise up the ranks, considering she only got involved in soccer in the last decade.

“I started in Nenagh fundraising about eight years ago and from there became involved in the North Tipperary Schoolchildren’s Football League (NTSFL),” she said.

“From there I went to represent North Tipperary on the underage council (SFAI) and they put me forward to the FAI senior council and from there I was nominated to the board and from there nominated to vice-president.”

Ursula stressed her progression up the ranks owes everything to the work and support of the NTSFL where she is secretary while another woman, Terri Butler is the chairperson.

“It is a good time for women, it’s a good time for change in the organisation overall,” Ursula said, with her focus, if elected, on continuing the growth of the game in all areas of football in Ireland and eliminating the politics between different areas which beset the old regime.

“Every part of soccer is important,” she stressed.

“Under the new general assembly, every area of football is represented equally. The general assembly is very fair in that it is split into three pillars, a third to the professional game, a third to the amateur game and a third to the national bodies which encompasses the SFAI, Football for all, Universities, and schools. All of those national bodies are all represented fairly so everyone has a say and a vote.

“Every part of the game is equally represented, every part of the game has a voice, and every part of the game is equally important as you can’t have amateur soccer or junior soccer without underage soccer. You can’t have League of Ireland without a grassroots system so we will continue to try and work really hard to have one association and that would be the hope.”

Success on the field is generally what the FAI is judged on and while at senior men’s level things are at a low ebb at the moment, the women’s team are on the rise and were unfortunate to miss out on qualifying for next years European Championships.

However, there are green shoots at underage level in both the boys’ and girls’ game and Ursula Scully sees the fallout from Brexit as being an opportunity for football in Ireland to finally develop a sustainable model of juvenile player development as players under the age of eighteen are now prevented from signing for English and Scottish clubs. So, bar they move to other EU countries, their development at seventeen and eighteen years of age will have to be done in Ireland.

“If you have a really good structures in the grassroots game and it is well managed and funded that talent will come through,” Scully enthused.

“Every league in the country has an emerging talent programme and the players for the most part that come through those programmes go into the centre of excellence run by the FAI and then onto the League of Ireland teams.

“You just have to have a strong grassroots structure at underage in order for that pathway to be created. Without a good grassroots structure the League of Ireland structure is no good. You have to start at the bottom and work your way up.”

There were over 3,000 children registered with NTSFL clubs last year and in a region where hurling is dominant, it is an impressive feat, and that progression is what Ursula hopes will be in her favour come the vote and having the vice-president of the FAI from the local area would be a further boost.

“It is great for Nenagh, it is great for North Tipperary and it is great for this region to have representation at such a high level to drive sport on,” she added.

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