Waterford FC are back on the road this weekend for their clash with Longford at Bishopsgate.
The Blues are hoping to make it three consecutive wins in the First Division as they strive to reel in the league leaders, Galway.
While matters on-field have been moving mostly in the right direction in recent weeks - with Ronan Coughlan maintaining his place as the league's top scorer and the team keeping clean sheets in a third of their games so far - it is the off-field issues which have cast a cloud over the club.
Pilley awaits sentencing
Owner and Chairman Andy Pilley is due to be sentenced on July 3rd on four charges of fraud, as found by Preston Crown Court following an eight-month trial.
Pilley is expected to face a near-maximum sentence of a possible ten years with the prosecution telling the court that the "sums taken in fraud" amount to a number believed to be in the range of £15 million.
Speaking to WLR Sport this week, writer of "The Pitch" with the Irish Examiner, Ian Mallon, says it's very hard to see how Pilley can remain involved with the club with the stark reality that he will be behind bars in England.
"Andy Pilley is now a convicted fraudster and his immediate priority in life - forget about football, forget about all business interests - is survival," said Mallon. Pilley remains remanded in custody until his sentencing and Mallon adds that he is "looking at a stretch in prison. He's looking at an immediate stretch of up to July 3rd until he's sentenced and suddenly all other things may not matter as much. For a guy who's probably going to spend the next month considering 'will I get 3, 5, or 10 years', football will take a back seat."
Fit and Proper Person Test
The FAI are still in the process of implementing their Directors Test, which would determine whether an individual is suitable to own or be on the board of a League Of Ireland club. The work began in 2022 and is still in process, but last year in his "The Pitch" column in the Irish Examiner, Mallon said, "the system examines potential members who were employed by companies or organisations which were or are 'the subject of any pending criminal or disciplinary proceedings or investigations (who) shall be deemed not to have passed the Integrity Assessment'”.
When Pilley purchased Waterford FC last year, he would have been subject to what Mallon described as, "an ad hoc model of screening future owners and investors in League of Ireland teams." While the case against Pilley had already been established when he made the purchase, the absence of a more extensive testing system meant that no red flags were ultimately raised by the association.
"You could criticise the FAI," Mallon told WLR Sport. He expanded on his point to say that they need to come into this situation robustly and they need to officiate over a very quick response with Waterford FC.
The Other Options
The FAI may well find a reprieve from the issue if the club is sold promptly, as has been speculated in recent days. Former club chairman Mitchell Cowling has publicly stated his desire to buy the club having left the RSC last year. He told the Irish Mirror that he has "reached out to Andy [Pilley]. We last spoke three weeks ago. I would like to buy the club and make an offer. Ideally, I would like to get this done in the next two weeks if possible."
Cowling also referred to his desire to "get the band back together" by bringing the former manager Marc Bircham back to Waterford, but the mood on the ground indicates that supporters are entirely happy with their current management team of Keith Long et al.
The other option on the table is the possibility of Pilley signing the club over to his son Jamie. The idea has been circulating for some time - and remains pure speculation at the present moment - but it would mean that Pilley's latest project remains within his family.
Mallon cautions against the idea, telling WLR Sport that it simply would not work on a practical level.
"From the practical perspective - how do you run something from behind bars?" asks Mallon. "You can't hold board meetings, you can't have access to accounts, you can't make decisions, you can't hold executive meetings. So that doesn't work."
While a sale of the club seems the most likely outcome at the moment, it remains to be seen if the FAI intervenes if a sale does not occur. While Pilley is also likely to come under pressure in England from the EFL under their owners and directors test.
The test is under constant scrutiny in the UK and has raised eyebrows around the purchase of Newcastle United to the Saudi private investment fund last Autumn.
Mallon says that the EFL will be compelled to act on the matter and that "there is no question he will have to sell Fleetwood Town in my view. And having spoken to some legal football experts in the UK they can not see how that can sustain."