Belfast Telegraph

Will the Irish Football Association please sort out this disciplinary mess?

It's time to finally make disciplinary procedures fit for purpose

By Graham Luney

It's amazing how some things in life move at an incredible pace but progress in other areas is painfully slow. Irish League fans know that feeling.

I've just returned from a trip to Singapore. I'll save you the effort of reaching for a map and clarify that it's slightly further east than Castlereagh.

While travelling on the Lion City's underground trains I couldn't help but notice that nearly everyone owns a digital device and they are glued to them, even when it's time to walk. It wasn't like this when I was a kid. Back then happiness was (mostly) innocent outdoor fun, the days of social interaction.

I've struggled to keep pace with technological change but other aspects of my life, and indeed working life, never seem to change. I went on my travels with hope in my heart. Hope, rather than expectation, that our football administrators and political representatives would behave themselves.

What did I miss? John Delaney likes a song and our politicians like a swear word, particularly when they are struggling to find the expenses claim sheet.

And the Irish FA are still trying to dig their way out of the hole they dug for themselves regarding the Gary Hamilton suspension saga.

The Delaney story was incredible. All together now, 'thank you very much for John Delaney, thank you very much, thank you very, very, very much.' David Jeffrey's response to that episode was telling. In his Sunday Life column, he praised the FAI for supporting their man at a difficult time - an interesting message to the Linfield board.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's football bosses have their work cut out trying to make sense of the Hamilton suspension saga. Confusion reigns and bemusement grows with Gary probably more bemused than any of us.

Hamilton was sent off by referee Mervyn Smyth while he was on the sidelines during a game against Linfield on November 1 but he still hasn't served any ban - as a player or manager.

The Irish FA said the former Northern Ireland international was dismissed as a manager, given a touchline ban and, cleared to play against Glentoran, the former Oval ace promptly scored twice in a 4-2 win at his old stomping ground.

The Glens weren't happy and appealed but the appeal wasn't heard until Monday of last week, freeing Hamilton to play against Dungannon Swifts. The IFA is expected to give its verdict on that appeal today so stand by for the next twist in this tale.

One thing is clear. The Irish FA really need to take a fresh look at their disciplinary procedures and sort it out so we don't have more of these cases. There have been far too many.

Coleraine have appealed a points deduction and fine imposed on them after Ruairi Harkin played in the Bannsiders' 4-0 win against Institute on November 1 but the midfielder should have been serving a suspension. The Bannsiders argued they were not told when the suspension was to take effect.

The IFA rules regarding suspensions for managers, players and player-managers (of which we have two in the Danske Bank Premiership) should be crystal clear and communication between the IFA and clubs in this matter must be efficient to the point of there being no chance of confusion.

But will the IFA get its act together? Glenavon duo Shane McCabe and William Murphy won their appeals after being banned and fined for comments on social media as the association failed to inform the club in the right manner.

And let's not forget that in April this year Linfield and Cliftonville won appeals against punishments dealt out over sectarian chanting at a County Antrim Shield semi-final. The clubs had been fined as a result of supporters' behaviour during the match at Linfield's Windsor Park but the appeals were successful because the IFA's disciplinary committee had breached its own procedures.

The IFA Appeals Board also ruled that the evidence against Cliftonville had not been strong enough.

Of course, none of this detracts from the magic of the Irish League and the encouraging news that attendances are on the up.

But the game's administrators have a job to do and we are all relying on them to get it right.

One of the highlights of my Singapore adventure was a trip to the Sea Aquarium on Sentosa Island and just for a short while it was nice to be in the company of intelligent creatures.

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