Belfast Telegraph

Opinion divided over scrapping of Irish Cup replays

By Keith Bailie

The Irish FA's decision to scrap Irish Cup replays have received a mixed reaction from fans and players alike.

Cup replays have been a fundamental part of the Irish Cup since its inception a 134 years ago, but last summer, the Challenge Cup committee opted to axe the old tradition. Although replays for the finals, semi-finals and the preliminary rounds had been binned some years ago, fifth, sixth and quarter-final replays remained until last season.

In a statement, the Irish FA said: “The decision was taken by the Challenge Cup Committee last year. Between the meetings of the Challenge Cup Committee in June and July, there was consultation with NIFL senior clubs (facilitated by NIFL) before confirming the decision to remove replays from all rounds. Previously, replays had only applied to round five, round six and the quarter-finals.”

On one hand, the decision is likely to ease the fixture congestion which replays can cause. On the other hand, it means intermediate clubs have lost the opportunity to earn extra gate revenue by taking a Premiership club to a replay.

For example, Saturday's fifth round tie between PSNI and Portadown at Newforge went to extra-time, with Chris Casement scoring the winner for the Ports in the 110 minute. There is no doubt Championship One club PSNI would have relished the opportunity to play Ronnie McFall's men at Shamrock Park, with the extra revenue that comes with it.

Other famous Irish Cup replays involving intermediate sides include Dunmurry Rec's second game at Windsor Park after drawing 0-0 with Linfield in the fifth round in 2011, Warrenpoint Town's famous penalty shoot-out win at Solitude over Cliftonville that same season and Loughgall's 1-0 replay win over Coleraine in the 1997 quarter-finals.

Last year, Armagh City participated in two replays. As a Championship Two side, they knocked then Premiership Ards out of the Irish Cup at Holm Park, 3-1, before losing 2-1 to Glentoran in a replay at the Oval.

Their manager, Marty Rice, has seen experienced both ends of the debate first hand.

“There is a good side and a bad side to replays, and I guess that we can't have our cake and eat it. On one hand, for an intermediate club, a replay can bring in much-needed revenue. Our replays against Ards and particularly Glentoran at The Oval certainly helped us out last season.

“On the hand, replays can cause fixture congestion. Last year, our replay against Glentoran at The Oval was postponed and we had to go there on a Saturday, which pushed back our league fixtures. As we were reached the final of the Intermediate Cup as well, we ended up playing three games a week, which is tough on amateur footballers.

“I'm sure the traditionalists will be disappointed. There have been some great replays over the years and we enjoyed our games against Ards and the Glens last season.”

Whether or not the IFA's move is a success or not remains to be seen, but this year's Irish Cup will certainly seem strange without rainy mid-week replays.

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