Belfast Telegraph

IFA attempt to bury crucial Portadown outcome on day of Germany match

By Conor McLaughlin

The Irish Football Association stand accused of trying to bury news of a potentially season-defining decision amid the hype and distraction of Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifier in Germany this evening.

With many Danske Bank Premiership fans having jetted out to Hannover, and plenty more gearing up to watch the big match alongside fellow supporters at homes and pubs across the country, football chiefs are preparing to finally release the findings of Portadown's appeal against the 12-point deduction imposed four months ago.

The Ports - who were informed of the Appeals Board's determination yesterday - had also been battling against the suspension from all football activity that forced the postponement of their trip to Coleraine on the Premiership season's opening weekend.

Should that ban be upheld, Pat McGibbon's side would forfeit the game with a 3-0 win recorded in favour of the Bannsiders, who would jump to third place in the standings ahead of this weekend's fixture between the two clubs.

Portadown were hit with a 12-point deduction and £5,000 fine in June after being found to have paid a wage to Peter McMahon, who has since joined Dungannon Swifts, while he was registered as an amateur.

Another £5,000 penalty was imposed, along with a transfer embargo preventing the club from signing players on professional terms until June 2017, after irregularities were found in payments made to former striker Gary Twigg - who, ironically, moved to Coleraine in the summer.

The Shamrock Park side's failure to settle the accumulated £10,000 debt led to the Irish FA suspending the club from football at the beginning of August and, though the fine was eventually paid, the IFA's Disciplinary Committee decided to keep the ban in place, although it was subsequently lifted until the appeal hearing.

Delay after delay ensued, with one meeting postponed because no Portadown officials were available to attend. Another saw the club request an opportunity to submit additional evidence - which they didn't have in their possession at the time, forcing another hold-up - while last Monday night's hearing ended with the IFA promising to issue a "full reasoned decision" within a week.

That self-imposed seven day deadline ended yesterday, when the Ports were made privately aware of the outcome ahead of a public announcement being made today - just hours before Northern Ireland lock horns with the World Champions.

Burying bad, uncomfortable or controversial news is not a new phenomenon, nor is it the sole preserve of the Irish Football Association, but this transparent attempt to sneak a major story out when attentions are likely to be elsewhere will not sit well with players, officials and fans who have been waiting for this issue to be resolved for a third of a year.

Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry, whose club missed out on opening day turnstile takings when their scheduled clash with the Ports fell by the wayside on August 8, has branded the interminable saga as "a disgraceful state of affairs", while the entire season to date has operated under a lingering cloud of uncertainty, with anything up to 15 points set to be reallocated across the board.

In addition to the Bannsiders' potential climb, Portadown could be lifted to within touching distance of 10th-placed Glentoran, with Carrick Rangers sinking to the bottom of the table.

Major ramifications, but ones that the IFA are clearly hoping that all stakeholders - be they clubs, players, punters or media - are too distracted to notice.

Belfast Telegraph


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