Belfast Telegraph

From Australia to Zzzzz, it has been a crazy Irish League season

By Graham Luney

It's goodbye to another season of high drama and high farce... did we expect anything else? The outstanding contribution to domestic football award goes to Irish FA disciplinary chiefs for the 100th year running.

Crusaders started and ended the season with a bang, winning in Europe and then snatching the Gibson Cup for the first time in 18 years. Glentoran lifted the Irish Cup at The Oval - much to the annoyance of Portadown boss Ronnie McFall - while Cliftonville pocketed the League Cup for the third year running and County Antrim Shield.

Windsor Park's Kop Stand couldn't cope with Northern Ireland fans doing the bouncey and we had the usual collection of eligibility rows. Here's my A to Z of another crazy campaign.

A kicks us off with Australia, that country Irish League players like to visit from time to time. Kevin Braniff went last season before returning and just before the transfer window shut Glenavon striker Guy Bates headed Down Under. No stranger to Home and Away commitments, perhaps a new acting career was blossoming.

B must be the bulletproof wings Warren Feeney said he was mostly wearing at Windsor Park. Rumours that Jackie Fullerton had slipped him a few cans of Red Bull before the interview were shot down immediately. This season's film was Harry Potter and the Windsor Park demolition (on and off the pitch) with a special guest appearance from Grant McCann.

C is for continental joy. Crusaders won away from home and progressed in European competition for the first time after a stunning victory in Lithuania while Linfield gave AIK Solna a major fright after winning their 100th Uefa scrap. All dedicated to those who ridicule the local game. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!

D is don't play it again! The Irish FA decided replays weren't worth having any more in the Irish Cup which is fine but they never told the managers, players or fans! Mind you, they were probably too busy making sure they got the votes of Michael O'Neill and Steven Davis in on time for the Ballon d'Or award! Or perhaps they were too busy telling Allan Jenkins he would miss the League Cup decider through suspension!

E is all about eligibility rules. Eugene Ferry, Ruairi Harkin, Darren Forsyth and the best of the lot.. Gary Hamilton. Gary was shown a red card on the touchline against Linfield but still played against Glentoran in the next game and scored twice! Glentoran's anger hasn't gone away you know. Just this week they have written to Barack Obama, the United Nations, Amnesty International and Dear Deidre in The Sun.

F is the football family, often trotted out as a cliche but its real face emerged when fans united in support of Larne's Scott Irvine who suffered horrific head injuries after crashing into a perimeter wall at Inver Park in the Irish Cup game against Carrick Rangers. And the football family is now also rallying behind Mark Farren who needs cancer treatment in Germany.

G is generate some electricity. We had floodlight failure but not at Warrenpoint this time... our proud international home, Windsor Park before the Institute game in October. What else could possibly go wrong at Windsor? Oh.

H is for hungry. Mark McAllister was grateful for a biscuit chucked at him by a Glentoran fan so he lifted it and munched away. Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?

I should be Irish Cup Final which, due to Windsor Park woes, was played at The Oval for the first time since 1995 after the Irish FA's preferred choice of the Shankill Leisure Centre came to nothing. Kingspan Stadium anyone?

J will be Joe 'the goal' Gormley. A striker scores 31 league goals and it isn't enough to fire Cliftonville to European football? It's a funny old game.

K is Kop Stand, or if you prefer West Stand. It sunk into the ground after the Northern Ireland-Finland game. Maybe it shouldn't have been played on a Sunday after all! The IFA looked for answers and when asked to comment, chief executive Patrick Nelson said: 'Let's all do the bouncey, let's all do the bouncey, nah nah nah nah.' When asked about the title race Linfield boss Warren Feeney replied: 'All we can do is keep our own house in order and people need to see we are rebuilding at Windsor.'

L should be legends. Two boys who have hung up their boots after distinguished careers - William Murphy and Ronan Scannell - leave us with some golden memories.

M is Matthew Shevlin, a player we can forgive for making schoolboy errors. The 15-year-old Ballymena Academy student became the youngest player to score for the Sky Blues, netting with his first touch against Ballinamallard United.

N represents the NINE goals Michael McLellan scored for H&W Welders against Rathcoole in an 11-0 Steel and Sons Cup rout. Welders chiefs panicked when they thought they had to give three balls away.

O is for out of order, not so much the toilets as the toilet rolls. AIK Solna fans brought a significant supply of them to Mourneview Park for the Europa League battle with Linfield and unfurled a banner with the less than friendly message 'These 51 toilet rolls are worth as much as your titles'. Very amusing until Andy Waterworth's winner ensured they went home looking a little flushed.

P is President of Russia. Before the season kicked off Warrenpoint Town made the unlikely trip to Vladimir Putin's patch to engage in friendly fire - talk about a tough away venue! There's no truth in the rumour Putin used his contacts to dig Town out of a hole during the Darren Forsyth eligibility saga.

Q can be rock legends Queen. Power ballad 'We Are The Champions' was easy listening for Stephen Baxter, Crusaders players on the move and in the mood to party.

R is rest in peace. Herbie Anderson, Gerry Burrell, Jim Cairns, Norman Carmichael, Pat Davey, Gordon Hanna, Charlie Johnston, Joe Kinkead, Billy Liggett, Billy McCoubrey, Artie McFarland, Charlie McFarland, Walter McFarland, Bertie McGonigal, Harry Wallace. Members of the football family we have lost but will cherish the memories.

S is for Sherlock Holmes who got a special mention in the Irish FA Appeals Board statement in the Chris Casement alleged headbutt case. Where was Miss Marple and Columbo when we needed them for the Gary Hamilton saga? In the end Chris was freed to play in the final though Glentoran won it at The Oval. Afterwards, Ports boss Ronnie McFall took on referee Ross Dunlop on the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao undercard. Arsene Wenger was a judge but he was too busy zipping up his coat and didn't see anything.

T must be time. There are rumours Cliftonville are thinking of getting rid of their pitch -side clock as Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce is prepared to stand on the sidelines and keep the referee right with a new £16,000 watch he found collecting dust in his garage.

U can be for the underdogs from North Down. The super Seasiders made Crusaders seasick twice, dumping them out of the League Cup and County Antrim Shield. Cliftonville proved to be a steadier ship in the Shield final but Garth Scates' Championship 1 side, who also put Glentoran to the sword, won a standing ovation.

V can be victory for the fans against the Irish FA after their Ticketing Agent, Ticketmaster, was kicked into touch ahead of the Irish Cup Final. Rival fans being able to gain access to the same section of the ground? Sure go on ahead boys, there's far too much segregation in Belfast!

W is all about the Welders. The boys from Tillysburn became men when they ended Glenavon's hopes of retaining the Irish Cup. Boss Gary Smyth and striker David Rainey helped shoot down their former club. Rainey, an unused substitute for the Lurgan Blues in the 2014 Cup decider, was on target.

X can be X factor for those who like the sound of their own voice. Thankfully, our managers resisted the temptation to say thank you very much via YouTube, however David Jeffrey was only singing Jimmy Callacher's praises... we will never see footage of a manager or leading football official on 'the island of Ireland' belting out a political song will we? Oh

Y is the 'Yes' referee Mervyn Smyth shouted when Glentoran scored a goal against Glenavon after he decided to play an advantage. The Lurgan Blues players were not amused and Gary Hamilton's mood darkened when he later found out that Mervyn was a part-time Flybe engineer who refused to fix their plane en route to Iceland. I may have made that last bit up.

Z will have to be zzzzzzzz, that's the sleep Crusaders players need after title celebrations involved an alcoholic beverage or two. Poor Stephen Baxter thought he was a horse in the Grand National and cut his hand after attempting to jump the fence at Solitude. Amazingly, referee Mervyn Smith didn't book him (as a player or manager) for celebrating with fans. Progress report.. it's now safe to admire a south Belfast mural honouring Warren Feeney and Grant McCann. Now we all deserve a relaxing break. I'm off on a Club 18-30 holiday to Ibiza with Sean O'Neill and Declan Caddell. I'm 42-years old but the IFA say I'm eligible. Wish me luck.

Belfast Telegraph

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