Billy Weir: Fair play and fairytales - just what the Doc ordered
It's funny how things sometimes fall into place and in the strangest of ways.
With all eyes on the end-of-season play-offs, and with the Tennent's Irish Cup final to come this Saturday, the return of Bangor to the 'big time' has passed most people by.
Hugh Sinclair's side, who have had to suffer the ignominy of plying their trade in the Ballymena & Provincial Intermediate League of late, have earned their place in next season's Premier Intermediate League, which would have been a C Division in old money.
This is no reflection, by the way, on the BPIL - probably the best-run league in the world and one I have had a long and enjoyable relationship with - but if Ballinamallard United see off Crusaders in this weekend's showpiece, they will be the most unlikely winners of the trophy since Bangor in 1993.
Their fall from grace since then has been one of Irish League football's most depressing stories. Relegation from the Premiership and licensing problems that saw them drop out of the Irish League before getting their house back in order to start moving back to where they belong.
And then we can throw Leeds United and Aston Villa's shenanigans last weekend into the mix too.
If you missed it, all hell broke loose when Mateusz Klich opened the scoring for Leeds, who needed a win to keep their chances of automatic promotion to the Premier League alive.
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The only problem was that Villa had stopped playing with striker Jonathan Kodjia laying needing treatment on the pitch. Needless to say, all hell broke loose - a 21-man brawl, a seven-minute hold-up and Villa's Anwar el Ghazi sent off. Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa then ordered his players to let Villa's Albert Adomah walk up the pitch and score straight from the restart.
What has all this got to do with Bangor, I hear you ask?
Well, back on April 19, 2003, when the Seasiders were chasing promotion from the First Division, a near identical incident occurred in their crucial clash with Ballymena United at the Showgrounds.
Now, there were a few less than the 36,786 who witnessed the scenes at Elland Road on Sunday, but those there will never forget the sequence of events that followed referee John Fielding's decision to blow up play when two balls came onto the pitch.
The official stopped the game to allow a drop ball, uncontested under the impression that Bangor striker Philip Rogan would knock possession back to Dwayne Nelson in the United goal, only to inexplicably chip the ball over the keeper and into net.
Mayhem ensued before Bangor boss Lee Doherty intervened and did a Bielsa, ordering his players to stand aside from the kick-off as United midfielder Paul Evans dandered up the pitch and slotted into the empty net.
Referee Fielding explained what had happened afterwards: "The player said he would knock the ball back to the goalkeeper and when he put it in, there was nothing I could do as it was from open play.
"Thankfully, common sense prevailed and the sides were able to work out a solution."
Bangor would go on to miss out on promotion and it speaks volumes for Doc that he made the big call, although he joked afterwards that "if it had been in the last minute of the game, the temptation might have been greater".
Mind you, given Kenny Shiels was in the opposite dugout it's probably just as well, as he'd still have been sitting there 16 years later protesting!
So, history once again shows that it can repeat itself, and if that isn't an omen for a Ballinamallard Cup triumph, then I don't know what is!
Not convinced? Okay then, have a wild guess who Ballinamallard beat to clinch their first ever promotion to the Premiership? Yes, it was indeed Bangor.
To put their achievements into perspective, while the Seasiders were lifting the Irish Cup in 1993 thanks to Paul Byrne's goal against Ards, the Mallards were playing in the B Division and, when the madness was ensuing at Warden Street a decade later, they had just lifted the Second Division title.
It is an extraordinary rise and, although there are naysayers who say Windsor Park will be emptier than Stormont come Saturday, I wouldn't be so sure.
The Fermanagh diaspora is making its way back, including former boss Whitey Anderson jetting in from the States, and the way it's going I wouldn't be surprised to see Adrian Dunbar there, although it may scupper the final episode of Line of Duty if he's still sucking diesel after a Mallards win.
But I didn't come up the Erne in a bubble, I know that Crusaders are the hottest favourites since Linfield in 1976 when they took on no-hopers Carrick Rangers in the final.
There is plenty of evidence of Cup upsets in the past; Hastings may face a battle to stay free but perhaps the mysterious mastermind known only as H does indeed come from Fermanagh and Harry McConkey will be on duty on the line looking to make history in a huge way.
It’s time to show a card to end of season pack shuffling
When one manager raises his concerns about the situation whereby a booking at the end of this season can see a player suspended for the start of the next, you tend to think it’s not much to worry about.
When three — a quarter of the Premiership’s bosses — raise the same point, then you begin to wonder is it time to change this rule?
Saturday’s last round of fixtures threw up a mis-mash of games, in reality the ones that counted were Ards and Newry’s clashes to see who finished bottom, Glentoran’s battle with Institute for seventh, while Crusaders had a chance of third if Glenavon slipped up.
But elsewhere the teamsheets had a lot of people scratching their heads as sides with little to play for blooded some youngsters, but the fear of losing a key player for the start of next season was a real worry.
The Crues — and we’ll skip over the administrative blunder that saw the scoreline reversed — also had one eye on the Irish Cup final, but with Ballymena United having already secured second, their bench was more like a crèche.
Manager David Jeffrey is in no doubt that a change is needed.
“I think that there has to be some form of threshold whereby you’re disciplined for a period of the season and it begins and ends there,” he said.
“We do it in tournaments and in Europe, are there any other associations that have the same as us, I don’t know?
“Once we got second, our result against Crusaders didn’t hurt anybody, so to speak, it didn’t hurt Glenavon as they secured third.
“The difficulty is if one team gets to a position where they are able to avoid risking players, then maybe teams aren’t as strong and other teams are looking for results, then you have to ask the question.
“Jim Ervin was desperate to play, absolutely desperate to play. I said, ‘Jim, I appreciate that, but all you need is one mistimed tackle and the referee, by the laws of the game, has to book you and you start next season suspended’”.
Linfield boss David Healy made a similar call the previous weekend.
“It’s only natural for me to protect my players. Some of them are only one card away from suspension. It’s madness that suspensions can be carried over until next season in this day and age,” he explained.
“There must be a cut-off point at some stage to have them wiped.
“In the Champions League, previous cards are wiped at the semi-final stage, and that’s one of the biggest tournaments in the world.”
And Cliftonville, who lost to Glenavon on Saturday, also fielded a young side with the European play-offs in mind.
“I gave a lot of kids a chance. It’s only fair that we not only get ready for next week, but for next season,” explained boss Paddy McLaughlin.
“We had three boys one booking away from missing the play-offs so I wasn’t prepared to take any chances.”
As Healy said, we have a good product here, let’s not hamper it with silly rules.
Let’s have a good look at it during the summer and come up with a better solution.
Out on the wing
Victory sweet for Currie after sour stay at Ports
When Portadown sacked Niall Currie back in February last year after just 14 months in the Shamrock Park hot-seat, I did warn that it could come back to bite them.
And it did so on Tuesday night when his Carrick Rangers side, who finished a deserved second behind Larne in the Championship, defeated the Ports in the pre-play-off-play-off at Taylors Avenue (never to be called anything else).
Currie has once again shown that there are a few better managers who can, against the odds, get sides to have a chance at making the Premiership, but only part of the job is done.
The Amber Army now tackle Ards, the club Currie left to manage his hometown side in 2016, after Warren Feeney guided them to 11th and Newry City’s demise was confirmed at the weekend. For those of a sadistic wont, the two-legged game is one of the highlights of the season and it is a tough one to call, but few would back against Currie doing it again.
As for the Ports? Well, I feel for Matthew Tipton.
With Larne’s treasure chest, the rest were only ever playing for a play-off but, with them out of the way, next season will be crucial.
The Ports only have themselves to blame for where they are, too many howlers behind the scenes and, unfortunately, it is their loyal band of fans who will suffer another season in the Championship.
As for Currie? Well, sour has become sweet, but he knows his biggest task is still to come.