Portadown league suspension: Fresh hope gives way to old failings
New-term buzz is snuffed out as Ports are suspended from football just days before 2016/17's big kick-off
The high profile arrivals of Nacho Novo, Pat McCourt, Sammy Clingan and Roy Carroll should have launched the new Danske Bank Premiership campaign in stunning style but it's a case of different season, same old Irish League circus.
There's a huge amount of good work that goes on behind the scenes to entertain fans and help young players fulfil their potential - some progressing to the professional ranks or even the international stage.
At yesterday's press launch, managers shared inspiring tales about Irish League adventures laying the foundations for glittering careers with Gareth McAuley, Stuart Dallas and Niall McGinn receiving special mention.
But this season will kick off under a dark cloud thanks to another blunder, the latest added to the long list that has blighted domestic football.
Portadown are suspended from all football activity after the club failed to pay disciplinary fees for making undisclosed payments to players.
The Irish FA Disciplinary Committee's ruling means their league opener at Coleraine on Saturday is off and the Bannsiders will pocket three points.
There were suggestions that the Committee had the option to exercise their discretion to lift the ban but it remains in place. Under IFA rules, the suspension should not be lifted until the Monday after the outstanding fees are paid in full.
A fine of £5,000 was handed down in April but an initial cheque sent to the IFA 'bounced'. It's a shattering blow to Portadown who must now wait to appeal against a 12-point deduction, imposed after the Shamrock Park club were found to have paid Peter McMahon while he was registered as an amateur.
It's also a significant hit to the Irish League's image and reputation and the timing could not be worse, just when excitement levels should be reaching fever pitch ahead of the big kick off.
Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry acknowledges his club will suffer a financial loss due to the cancellation of Saturday's match and the Bannsiders will likely seek compensation.
"The senior game is getting headlines but they are the wrong headlines and after the great summer we had with the European Championships we should be doing everything in our power to promote the game," said McKendry.
"For sheer enjoyment and entertainment we have a fantastic product but we need to market it better and cut out the errors.
"This is damaging the reputation of senior football in Northern Ireland. Coleraine are the innocent party in this and I've no doubt the league's sponsors Danske Bank will not be thrilled about it.
"We need to be very careful about the way in which we address these matters as the game needs to move forward.
"This postponement will hurt Coleraine financially and disappoint many people. We sell a lot of season tickets and as well as gate income you have programmes printed and bar sales. Everyone looks forward to the opening day and it's a special occasion. Like the Irish Cup final, it's no ordinary match."
The fine was imposed on Portadown, 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.
Ports boss Pat McGibbon, who attended last night's press launch at Windsor Park, said: "I've been concentrating on the players and football side. The points deduction handed to us is definitely a handicap but we have to look at it as a marathon, not a sprint. We have to get those points back as quickly as we can."
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter admitted the Portadown payment saga cast a shadow over the start of the league season.
"People have to comply to rules and that's why you have governing bodies," said Baxter.
"We can't all run round and do our own thing. Rules have to be adhered to in how players are signed and in other matters.
"There are fabulous people at Portadown, people I have known for a long time and they work tirelessly for their club. I am genuinely really sorry that they find themselves in this position my hope is that it can be resolved.
"Something similar happened to us at the end of the season when there was talk of the possibility of points being handed back to Linfield. It wasn't good and I'd like to see an end to it. Let's hope we get a fresh start and Portadown, a fabulous club, can resolve this issue quickly."
An Irish FA statement read: "The Irish Football Association's Disciplinary Committee today upheld its decision to suspend Portadown Football Club from all affiliated football for non-payment of disciplinary fines.
"The Committee said having considered points made by Portadown FC, and taking into account Article 9.3 of the Irish FA's Disciplinary Code as well as being cognisant of Portadown's Premiership game against Coleraine scheduled for this Saturday, they were not persuaded to exercise discretion in this case.
"The decision means the suspension, which came into effect on Thursday 28th July, will remain in place until the Monday after any payment is made - in accordance with Article 9.3 of the Irish FA's Disciplinary Code."
The Northern Ireland Football League confirmed that Saturday's clash was postponed.
It added: "The Premiership Management Committee will consider the implications of this matter in due course."
Portadown said last night: "Following tonight's IFA Disciplinary Panel hearing, the club's opening fixture this Saturday away to Coleraine has been postponed. The Board will meet tomorrow to discuss the outcome of tonight's hearing and the future of Portadown Football Club."