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Ballymena United and Cliftonville line up to challenge IFA over bans ahead of Irish Cup semis



Garry Breen

Garry Breen

�INPHO/Matt Mackey

Garry Breen

The Irish Cup hopes of Cliftonville and Ballymena United have been battered by suspensions but the clubs will fight to overturn the bans.

Both sides are now seeking clarification on why Irish FA disciplinary chiefs are dishing out the suspensions.

Cliftonville ace Jamie Harney faces a one-match ban, ruling him out of the semi-final against Glentoran later this month, while Reds defender Garry Breen could potentially miss the last-four clash and a Cup final as he has a two-match suspension hanging over him.

Ballymena United player Steven McCullough has been hit with a one-game ban, as has United manager David Jeffrey, denying him the chance to be on the sidelines for the semi-final against Coleraine, also on Monday, July 27 at Windsor Park.

Article 15.3 of the IFA's disciplinary code says if a match is abandoned, cancelled or voided, any suspension imposed will not be deemed to be served except where the abandonment, cancellation or voiding has been done through no fault of the club.

The Danske Bank Premiership season was frozen in March and attempts to play further league fixtures failed.

It's not the clubs' fault they haven't been able to play matches so suspensions could be served and amid the unprecedented circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic, the punishment could be viewed as being unfair.

Cliftonville chairman Gerard Lawlor said: "Our interpretation of the rule is different to the Irish FA Disciplinary Committee's and we are analysing our next step."

Sky Blues chairman John Taggart said: "I've asked the Irish FA about our situation because we have Steven McCullough facing a one-match suspension as well as David."

Taggart added: “We will look at the rules and keep a watching brief.

“The league games were called off through no fault of the club or player.

“My personal view is that players should be readily available unless someone is sent off for violent conduct the week before.

“These matches don’t come around often for the clubs and players.”

Jeffrey received the one game ban after he was sent from the dugout during a Premiership defeat to Coleraine on March 7.

He was also hit with a further four-match suspension for his actions after the game, which were said to be a breach of Article 18.7 of the Irish FA’s Disciplinary Code.

United successfully appealed that additional penalty, but Jeffrey is still expected to serve the automatic one-match suspension. Jeffrey’s assistant, Bryan McLoughlin, has had his three-game ban — received for the same incident — rescinded.

But the suspensions are particularly frustrating for the players who could miss a semi-final and, in Breen’s case, a potential final.

The north Belfast club haven’t won the Irish Cup since 1979 and it would be a cruel blow to the Kilkenny man should the former Republic of Ireland under-21 international have to sit out the huge games.

Cliftonville are expected to appeal the suspensions and should they be successful, Ballymena will expect their bans to be lifted too.

The Sky Blues can still appeal the decision of the Irish FA’s Disciplinary Committee themselves and, should they succeed, Jeffrey would be in the dugout for the semi-final, with McCullough likewise eligible to feature.

In February, another player, Warrenpoint Town goalkeeper Mark Byrne, received a six-month ban, three of which were suspended for 18 months, following his involvement in the fracas at the end of the Irish Cup sixth round tie against Ballymena but, due to the Covid-19 outbreak wiping out the domestic programme, he only missed one further game because of that huge suspension.

Next month’s semi-final clashes will commence with Ballymena facing Coleraine in a behind-closed-doors encounter at Windsor Park at 4pm on Monday, July 27. The Reds’ clash with Glentoran will then follow at 8pm, with both fixtures set to be broadcast by BBC NI.

The Beeb will also provide live coverage of the final on July 31 — by which stage spectators could be permitted to attend in line with Stormont restrictions.

The Cup winners will secure the final Europa League spot, with Crusaders — as the third-placed team in the Premiership — taking the continental rewards should Premiership runners-up Coleraine lift the trophy.

Belfast Telegraph