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Knowles hoping Irish Cup final is within reach

By Stuart McKinley

Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin has revealed that the club is examining the finer details of Fifa's player registration guidelines in the hope that James Knowles' Irish Cup final dream won't be crushed by red tape.

Breslin had to break the news to the 20-year-old that his contract with the Irish FA Premiership champions ran out on Monday night, meaning that he wouldn't be eligible to face Glentoran at Windsor Park this Saturday, even if he signed a new deal.

In a frank and honest admission, Breslin accepts that the blame lies firmly with the club, but Solitude officials are now doing all they can to make sure that the Northern Ireland Under-21 player is available for the big day.

"Myself and (chairman) Gerard Lawlor told James on Monday night and it wasn't nice. It's probably the hardest thing that I have had to do," said Breslin.

"We signed James outside of the transfer window – after the end of August. We wanted to sign him until the January window, because he was still hoping to get back across the water, but we were told that it had to be until the end of the season," said Breslin.

"The end date of his contract was put down as April 30, because we weren't thinking about the Irish Cup final at that time.

"It's the club's fault and I can see how it happened.

"There may be some dispensation. We are in contact with the IFA and there might be something in the rules that provided a player is staying at the same club – which James is – he is eligible.

"We are looking at it and there is a glimmer of hope for him and we're not doing anything untoward," he added.

Most players' contracts in the Irish League come to an end on May 31 and Knowles now looks like being the one to suffer from Cliftonville dating his forms a month ahead of that.

Despite now being in contract limbo the former Blackburn Rovers trainee put the issue behind him and trained with his Cliftonville team-mates at Solitude last night as they prepared for the final, in the hope that he will be told in the next couple of days that he can be involved in the squad for the decider.

"When I first heard I was absolutely gutted, but as I've heard tonight there might be another opportunity," said Knowles.

"The club is speaking to Fifa and Uefa and it's a waiting game now to see if I can play or not.

"That's what I am hoping, but I am kind of thinking that I won't be playing so that I don't get my hopes up too much.

"It was heartbreaking to find out, but it's about the way you react to things. I've still come to training and I'm not thinking much about it. I am trying to stay positive.

"No matter what happens I'll be training on Thursday night and I'll be there on Saturday to support the team."

Breslin added: "It's disappointing because we've everything in place for the final – the suits, the jerseys etc – and we weren't expecting something like this.

"It says a lot about James that he came and trained as normal – it speaks volumes about his attitude and I just hope that there's something good at the end of it for him."

In 1999 Cliftonville were at the centre of another player eligibility error on the eve of the Irish Cup final.

Back then it was discovered that Simon Gribben was cup-tied when he appeared as a substitute in the Reds' semi-final win over Linfield.

They were subsequently thrown out of the competition, with the cup awarded to Portadown.

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