Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

IFA silence amid avalanche of criticism is snow joke

Despite the best efforts of IFA staff and supporters the Windsor Park pitch was unplayable
Despite the best efforts of IFA staff and supporters the Windsor Park pitch was unplayable

It was a bleak weekend in Northern Ireland. The weather was horrendous, the electricity was off leaving thousands without power or heat, roads were blocked meaning cars were abandoned by fearful drivers and rescue teams faced snow drifts of almost 20ft trying to check on the well being of those isolated in rural areas.

 

Suddenly the fact that for the first time in history a senior international match at Windsor Park was called off, due to the Arctic-like conditions, doesn't seem as important as it did at the time.

It's during moments like this that perspective is required.

And lessons can be learned.

Certainly that should be the case for the Irish FA.

The postponement (twice) of the Group F fixture against Russia in Belfast brought frustration, anger and bemusement, almost in equal measure, to fans, the Northern Ireland players and our Russian visitors.

There was a sense swirling around in the wind that the IFA knew the storm was coming but failed to prepare properly for it.

The criticism from various quarters had some in the IFA running for cover — something the pitch never had, allowing several inches of snow to fall on it for most of Friday and the early part of Saturday.

Even with covers, I fancy mother nature would still have been declared the winner, but it may have given the surface a fighting chance, making us look a little less antiquated in front of the world as well meaning volunteers (IFA staff and supporters) shovelled snow off the pitch for the FIFA official and match referee to conduct proper inspections.

It's worth pointing out that the walkways surrounding Windsor and all the travel congestion that would have ensued had the game been on would have been a nightmare waiting to happen, so for all concerned, despite that frustration, anger and bemusement, it was the correct decision to call the whole thing off.

What needs to happen now is for the IFA to learn from this, move on and get with the times in an attempt to cover all eventualities, especially with Windsor Park being turned into a stadium for the 21st century.

I'd also like to see chief executive Patrick Nelson take more responsibility in the future.

Asked for interviews on Saturday by different media outlets, he refused leaving his communications director Geoff Wilson to deal with all the flak.

To his credit, Wilson spoke sensibly, defending the association from the snowballs being fired in its direction.

The clue is in his title and Wilson should obviously speak to broadcasters or the written press in situations like this, but Nelson needs to front up too.

Maybe he thought because he was shovelling snow at Windsor on Friday that his work was done.

It should have been only starting...

You are the chief executive, Patrick. Please act like one.

And that means not being bullied by the Russians when decisions are being made as to when the rescheduled fixture finally kicks off. If Fifa have to intervene, so be it, but don't run away scared because they are bigger than us.

Manager Michael O'Neill was not in situ when the original Group F dates were confirmed. He should, however, have a major say in this one and will no doubt take on board thoughts from his players, including key defender Jonny Evans who is due to get married in Northern Ireland on June 1.

Evans and his international team-mates were hoping that the match with Russia would be the one to end the long winless run for the side. (In case you have forgotten, it's 12 matches without victory, eight of which have been under O'Neill).

Now Israel at Windsor tonight (weather permitting) is the game to avoid number 13.

The boss and his players will tell you they have had no fortune lately. There is some truth in that, but too many times they haven't helped themselves either.

This evening provides the ideal opportunity to do that. They will be a lot fresher than an Israel outfit missing their best player and feeling down after drawing against Portugal on Friday, when they should have won. Also you get the feeling Israel may not relish the atmosphere or conditions at Windsor.

Time to look on the bright side of life.

The snow is clearing, the lights are coming on, the roads aren't like car parks and an international football match is set to take place in Belfast tonight.

It is one that Northern Ireland should win.

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