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‘It was never our intent to mislead anyone’ – FAI claim new manager Heimir Hallgrimsson was always first choice

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In a wide-ranging press conference at Lansdowne Road this afternoon, a lot of which focused on the much-criticised 231-day search, Canham said Hallgrimsson was the only person the association made a contract offer to.

The former Iceland boss was appointed yesterday after contract talks took place over the last 10 days, but questions still remain over the exact timeline of the process.

Canham said FAI were willing to wait for the 57-year-old to become available, as he was previously committed to his role as Jamaica boss for this summer’s Copa America, before resigning a little under a fortnight ago.

Hallgrimsson said he will be living in Ireland during his time as national boss – he is contracted until the end of the 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign – but his backroom team is yet to be decided, with his opening game against England around eight weeks away.

Hallgrimsson has also spoken to John O’Shea, and told the ex-Manchester United defender that he’d “really love to have him as a part of this journey”, having taken interim charge in March and June this year.

With the FAI previously committing to making an announcement on Stephen Kenny’s successor last April, Canham admitted in hindsight, they would have gone about things differently and said they would take lessons from the missed deadline.

“We made the decision that we wanted to focus on someone who met our criteria as closely as possible. Heimir was clearly one of those candidates who met that criteria above and beyond,” said Canham, at today’s unveiling.

“We made that decision in March, we obviously communicated at that point that we hoped to make an appointment in early April.

“Heimir was one of those people that was under contract. I think if we had our time again, I acknowledged this in April in our (in-house) video and I acknowledge it again today, we wouldn’t communicate it in that way.

“We hoped that we could do that. We recognise and take responsibility that if we had our time again, we would have said from the very outset and very consistently the whole time, the focus was on getting the right person for the job however long that takes, we will take that time. The learnings we had from that is setting timelines that created expectations that we would make an appointment at a point. There are some learnings from us to take on board.”

Pushed on if Hallgrimsson was the candidate they were hoping to announce last April, Canham added: “We made the decision that Heimir was our no. 1 candidate. We hoped to conclude that process, it wasn’t possible.

“Heimir was consistent all the way through that he was committed to the Nations League and Copa America. The learning from us was that we shouldn’t have communicated that we hoped to make an announcement at this point.”

In his opening statement, Canahm said the FAI respected Hallgrimsson’s decision to remain with Jamaica at the time they identified him as their number one target.

“We ran a very thorough process in which we identified Heimir as our outstanding and number one candidate,” said Canham.

“We wanted to appoint Heimir but he had been very consistent and very committed to the Jamaican national team competing in the CONCACAF Nations League and the Copa America. This was a decision we respected.

“We remained in contact with Heimir and were willing to wait for him to become available. We were absolutely focused on making sure we got this appointment right and the right person for our senior men’s team and for Irish football. That is exactly why we have made the decision to wait and secure Heimir at this point.

“Heimir was the only candidate we ever made a contract offer to. Heimir became available post-Copa America having resigned from his previous role. This enabled us to have formal contractual conversations and execute contract talk over the last nine to 10 days.

“It is true this took time. We were always in control of the process, always. We wanted to appoint someone who was the best person for the job, and for Irish football and our senior men’s team.

“That is not something that at any point we were willing to compromise on. Despite lots of external pressure and pressure on making an appointment, we stayed true to what we believed was right to find the best person for the job. We were happy to wait for our number one candidate and are delighted that he is sat here next to us today.”

Responding to a question asking if the public had been misled by previous deadlines set, Canham said “contrary to what’s been written and said, it was never, ever, our intent to deliberately mislead anyone.

“To be super clear, never ever did we sit in the room and think ‘let’s deliberately mislead anyone.’ That was not the best communication from us, we take responsibility for that, if we were to do that again we’d communicate in a different way and it’s good learnings from us moving forward. We always stayed true to the fact that we tried to get the best person for the job.”

Since yesterday’s news, many questions have been raised about the timing of the announcement, in a week where FAI interim CEO David Courell apologised to former female players who have spoken out on their alleged abuse, while Ireland’s women’s side are set to play England tomorrow in Euro 2025 qualifying.

“While I’m very pleased to make this announcement (on Hallgrimsson’s appointment), I do want to acknowledge that it has come during a difficult week in which the association has been dealing with very serious allegations relating to historical abuse of women in Irish football,” said Courell at the beginning of the press conference.

“Please know, our preference would have been to make this announcement at a different time but due to a range of factors we had to proceed today. We communicated this to the group of women in advance and we have asked for their understanding.

“Despite today being an important day for Irish football, those courageous women remain at the forefront of our thoughts and we reiterate our support for them.

“I know there were question marks over why we went today, we didn’t want to go head to head with the women’s national team fixtures. It’s obviously a two-stage announcement, we wanted to give Heimir as much advance preparation time ahead of September and we couldn’t wait unfortunately.”

Courell also responded to comments made by Damien Duff yesterday, before the news about Hallgrimsson broke, after the former Ireland centurion said: “I would raze Abbotstown to the ground, because it’s the most uninviting, unenthusiastic work place, not in world football, but in the world.”

“I don’t know if Heimir has even seen those comments, Damien is entitled to voice his own opinions, all I can do is reflect my own experiences with the association,” said Courell.

“It’s been very encouraging. I am surrounded on a daily basis by really passionate colleagues, in the office and across the country, who want to make a difference in Irish football. Damien is welcome to his own opinions but I wanted to reaffirm for my colleagues’ benefit, we see value in what they bring to the association.”

With his wife and family in attendance at Lansdowne Road, the new Irish men’s boss feels it’s an exciting project and expanded on his “back to basics” comment yesterday in regards to how Ireland will play under his reign.

“It was always an interesting project, this national team. I think this job is really an interesting project. It’s exciting for all coaches,” said Hallgrimsson, who previously co-led Iceland to a famous Euro 2016 Last 16 win over England.

“When it got closer to the Copa (America), I was more leaning on this, even though I had some other offers as well. Before the Copa America, I talked to the president of Jamaica and told him I would resign after the tournament.

“It was always at the top of my list to come here. What made my decision was the professionalism from the board. They showed me big respect even though I knew that they might go for someone else. I insisted I wanted to finish the Nations League with Jamaica and then the Copa America. They were so professional and that was the most appealing thing, working for these people. I hope that it’s going to be fruitful.

“In football in general you need basics, especially at international level. It’s tricky to be a national team coach, it’s totally different being a club coach and a national team coach. Your time with the players is so limited, so you need to have the basics perfect before you build on something different.

“If you get the basics, being organised, being compact, being a strong unit, that’s always the first thing you need as a national team. Then you can build on progressively from that thing. That was kind of what I meant, not starting with the fancy stuff and forgetting the basics.”

In the wake of last Sunday’s abuse allegations, Hallgrimsson was also asked about his previous comments on Mason Greenwood. The 22-year-old, also eligible for Jamaica, was charged with attempted rape in 2022 before all charges were dropped a year later.

Hallgrimsson has previously said of Greenwood that “whatever happened, everybody at least deserves a second chance.”

“It’s always in what context the question is asked in what scenario the question is asked. I absolutely don’t approve of his actions, just to make that clear,” said Hallgrimsson.

“The question to me was after the President of the Jamaica Federation and after the General Secretary, so obviously the coach got the question, the political answer was that obviously all coaches would like to have the best players available, that was kind of my answer.

“I didn’t need to take a decision on selection and it never came to that. I was trying to maybe duck the question, because answering questions like this, whatever you say will always be people supporting and against what you are saying so that was just an answer in the scenario at that time.”

Ireland take on the Three Lions on September 7 before hosting Greece three days later. Finland are also in their group, as the campaign concludes away to England on November 17 with World Cup qualifying beginning next March.

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