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Ballymena United hit back at Warrenpoint Town's 'unfounded allegations' over goalkeeper controversy


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Warrenpoint Town goalkeeper Mark Byrne after the final whistle. Pacemaker

Warrenpoint Town goalkeeper Mark Byrne after the final whistle. Pacemaker

Warrenpoint Town goalkeeper Mark Byrne after the final whistle. Pacemaker

Ballymena United have insisted they will vigorously defend their supporters' conduct following Saturday's controversial Irish Cup tie against Warrenpoint Town at Milltown.

The Irish Football Association's Disciplinary Committee will meet this month to discuss the incident, having received a report from referee Shane Andrews as well as video footage.

The Sky Blues issued a statement yesterday saying they will firmly back their fans, adding: "Ballymena United will assist the IFA in carrying out their investigation and we are confident that, once the facts are established, our club and its supporters will be exonerated."

United decided to issue a defiant response yesterday after Warrenpoint Town chairman Connaire McGreevy said their goalkeeper Mark Byrne was "physically assaulted" and the subject of "sectarian verbal abuse".

The 19-year-old stopper raced off the pitch in injury time and jumped over the fence behind the goal into the visiting supporters.

Video footage showed the teenager grappling with United fans before team-mates and opposition players helped drag him away.

Seconds later, he received a red card for violent conduct and will serve an automatic three-match ban.

Byrne's father received treatment after the game for a head wound, while Ballymena stated at least three of their fans had suffered injuries in the fracas.

There have also been allegations from Ballymena supporters that Byrne spat at them during the match, while home fans stated that the keeper had suffered verbal abuse throughout the game.

Police are investigating an alleged assault at the ground.

In his statement, McGreevy said his club did not condone Byrne's actions and that he would be disciplined.

He also urged the Irish FA to "urgently tackle" the problem of fans abusing players, which was highlighted by the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) last week.

McGreevy said: "Watching the video of the event, it is evident Mark Byrne was physically assaulted. This assault and the sectarian verbal abuse were reported to the referee at the time.

"It is important that we are mindful of the mental well-being of the 19-year-old following the vile abuse that was reported by the media present, players and spectators.

"In the video footage we have, the Ballymena 'fans' are clearly visible jumping up on the barrier and collapsing the barrier onto the playing surface.

"Our stewards have moved in and taken physical and verbal abuse in attempts to hold the fence back up.

"We are collecting further evidence of the events that took place after the restart of the game up until the final whistle."

The Sky Blues were surprised and angry at McGreevy's comments and responded with a statement expressing their "extreme disappointment" in what they call the "highly prejudicial" contents of their opponents' statement.

And United insisted they were unaware of "any evidence or reference to sectarian abuse directed at the keeper other than the allegation from Warrenpoint".

Their statement read: "Ballymena United Football Club is extremely disappointed at the contents of the statement issued by Warrenpoint FC in relation to the events at Milltown on Saturday. Our Club did not intend to make any comment until the IFA investigation was concluded but, in light of the highly prejudicial public comments made by Warrenpoint FC, we feel that we must highlight a number of false and unfounded allegations contained in the statement.

"A number of BUFC supporters, including Club officials, were standing close to the area where the incident took place and all those spoken to confirm the following: 'Having been present at the match, and from reading the referee match report, spoken to the IFA match observer and reading the reporting from the independent media present, we have yet to hear or see any evidence or reference to sectarian abuse directed at the keeper other than the allegation from Warrenpoint'.

"The Warrenpoint goalkeeper was not assaulted. Video footage clearly shows that the Warrenpoint goalkeeper had left the field of play and entered the spectator area where he was seen to throw a number of punches.

"Our Club is also aware of an incident involving the goalkeeper allegedly spitting at a supporter, caught on camera, which occurred prior to this which raised tensions in the crowd and this information will be passed to the IFA.

"Ballymena United supporters did not jump the fence as alleged.

"The fence collapsed when the goal was being celebrated, some five minutes before the assault on our supporters, causing a number of spectators to fall forward.

"This is not the first time that a fence has collapsed at Milltown and there is clearly a health and safety issue which needs to be addressed by the home club.

"The Club have received reports of Ballymena United supporters having received injuries as the result of alleged serious assaults, including a child, and are aware that the PSNI are investigating the same.

"One supporter received a broken nose, as confirmed by medical professionals, whilst two others have come forward confirming injuries as a result of the goalkeeper's actions.

"Ballymena United will assist the IFA in carrying out their investigation and we are confident that, once the facts are established, our Club and its supporters will be exonerated."

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