Belfast Telegraph

Billy Weir: It's time IFA kicked ridiculous rule into touch

Manic Monday: Glenavon boss Gary Hamilton has blasted football chiefs for the rescheduling of four Irish Cup ties
Manic Monday: Glenavon boss Gary Hamilton has blasted football chiefs for the rescheduling of four Irish Cup ties
Kris Lindsay

By Billy Weir

You can picture the scene as Neymar hobbled into training at Paris Saint-Germain last week, looking forward to the French club's Champions League clash with Manchester United on Tuesday.

"Phew boss, thank goodness the IFA has rearranged all those Irish Cup ties for Monday evening otherwise I wouldn't have known what to do," he said, presumably.

Yes, yet again the most ridiculous rule in football has been trotted out to land another kick in the wobbly parts for our domestic game.

"Rules is rules" will come the cry from Windsor Park - the Uefa statutes, when you try and make head or tail of them, basically saying that you can't play your top cup competition on the same night as Champions League or Europa League games.

Apparently, according to Uefa, the staging of Irish Cup or Danske Bank Premiership fixtures on the same night is 'not in the interests of fans and is therefore harmful to football'. Hogwash.

Is it any wonder Gary Hamilton was hopping up and down like a frog on a bouncy castle on Saturday when, after seeing off Ards, he was faced with a clash with Dungannon Swifts on Monday night - just 51 hours after the final whistle?

This is not Neymar, Pogba and the like we are dealing with here, these are fellas who play for a few extra bob at the weekend but by and large are out grafting for a living, not being pampered and lifted and laid before a game.

"It's absolutely ridiculous. How they can ask part-time players, who are working and will have to go into work on Monday and play on Monday night, is absolutely disgraceful," growled Hamilton.

"It's abysmal, and the powers-that-be need to take a good, hard look at themselves. This is the top cup competition in this country and they are asking players to play after playing 90 minutes on Saturday.

"If I was the sponsor, I'd be pulling out of it, because you're looking for quality games."

Now, if he'd lost that game on Saturday against Ards, people would have said it was only sour grapes, but, as the law of sod would dictate, when he had a stronger team on Monday, the Swifts won.

They had also rested players on Saturday, to such an extent that 'retired' manager Kris Lindsay named himself on the bench, but against all odds they beat champions Crusaders.

Of course, being a 'rule', it is open to interpretation, both League Cup semis and Larne's clash with the Crues in the Co. Antrim Shield last four were played on nights that clashed with European action but this doesn't fall under the same legislation. Apparently.

The IFA is not some country bumpkin standing at the edge of the pitch with a piece of straw between its teeth, pulling at its forelock in pathetic acquiescence to Uefa.

It is a fully paid-up member with a duty not only to serve the national team, but to make its blue riband cup competition is a shining light, not something to be pushed and shoved about because Porto are away to Roma and might clash with Ballinamallard United hosting Carrick Rangers.

David Martin is a hugely influential figure, he was in the running for one of Fifa's biggest jobs only a couple of weeks ago, and surely it is time for him as the figurehead of the IFA, with the backing of NIFL, to try and nip this ludicrous legislation in the bud once and for all?

Is forcing part-time players who have had to do a day's work and had played two days before in the best interests of fans and not harmful to football? There were options, outlined by Hamilton at the weekend, as to when the four re-arranged Irish Cup ties could have been played, but it seems that the Challenge Cup committee plumped for a Monday night.

Dungannon and Coleraine played a rearranged Premiership game last Tuesday; surely this could have been put on the back burner to allow the Irish Cup to have a fairer crack of the whip?

It also meant that Ballymena United - who face Linfield in Saturday's League Cup Final - had a tough game with Portadown on their bog of a pitch, while David Healy's Linfield had a couple of extra days' rest ahead of the decider. Hardly a level playing field, but then again that might suit United.

"I have emphasised to the players that it's a game at a time and a competition at a time, and we never considered rotating tonight - we simply focus on each individual game," said United boss David Jeffrey.

But the reality is, none of the managers should be put in a position where they have to change their teams drastically, or fill the bench with kids or the retired and infirm to make up the numbers.

And then to throw a handful of Saxo into the sores, our friends from the south, the FAI, came out with all good intentions on Tuesday and proudly announced that there would be a new cross-border Champions' Cup fixture for the respective league winners from both jurisdictions.

Now, this may be just a sneaky way of deciding the Brexit border issue, but it might have been a good idea for League of Ireland chief Fran Gavin to tell his counterparts up here of his intentions for a November super-summit.

The IFA responded: While nothing has been confirmed at this stage, discussions about a potential new cross-border game... have been going on for the past few months."

And NIFL added: "We were aware that initial discussions had taken place between the Irish FA and FAI but did not expect any formal announcements at this stage."

I have a radical idea.

How about we stage this game at the end of April or the start of May, on a Saturday.

Sure, we could move the Irish Cup Final to the Monday, as long as there are no big games in Europe on, obviously.

Belfast Telegraph


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