Belfast Telegraph

Reds chief Lawlor slams IFA over 'shambolic' treatment

By Graham Luney

Cliftonville chairman Gerard Lawlor has taken a swipe at the Irish Football Association over the controversy at the Irish Cup Final

Reds players bowed their heads during the playing of the National Anthem before the showpiece occasion last weekend.

The day before the game, the Irish FA revealed it had turned down a request from the north Belfast club not to play the anthem before the showdown with Coleraine. The Irish FA said in statement they sympathised with Cliftonville's position but added they had "committed to conducting a future stakeholder review of the issue".

Cliftonville were angered by the decision, particularly after the association scrapped the playing of the anthem before the Reds v Glentoran final in 2013.

"The way Cliftonville have been treated in the last week or so by the Irish FA is shambolic," argued Lawlor after Cliftonville secured a Europa League spot and a cash windfall of at least £210,000 by beating Glentoran in Saturday's play-off final.

"I'll deal with that through the proper channels at the Irish FA. We aren't going to run but there are a lot people within the IFA, senior office bearers, who haven't been able to pick up the phone to me this week or look me in the eye because I would say they are quite embarrassed."

On the last two occasions Cliftonville reached the Irish Cup Final, in 2009 and 2013, the anthem was dropped from the event.

In 2013, the Irish FA said this was to help foster a "politically neutral environment".

The decision not to play the anthem in 2013 was made by the Challenge Cup Committee but the Irish FA Board's policy since August that year is that the anthem should be played.

Lawlor, who is a member of the Irish FA Board, added that the episode will make the north Belfast club stronger.

"It's been a tough couple of weeks for the club but we will deal with it and the club will get stronger," he said. "We are here to stay."

After watching his side defeat Glentoran 3-2 in the Europa League play-off final at Solitude, the Reds chief also thanked manager Barry Gray and the players for sealing continental action.

"This was all we wanted, this is all I asked Barry to do for us, I said 'please get us back into Europe.' He has delivered and the players have delivered and we are absolutely delighted," said Lawlor.

Gray, meanwhile, hopes that booking Cliftonville's passport to the continent has justified the faith the club showed when they appointed him last May.

The former Warrenpoint Town boss was thrilled to come out on the winning side of the weekend's roller coaster showdown with the Glens and said: "Hopefully that's paid the board back for what they have done.

"They took a chance to bring me in - an unknown, out of the blue - and they've backed me in everything I've wanted to do this season.

"Qualifying for Europe and the money that comes with it means we can go on and put the plans we have for the club into action.

"If you miss out on Europe two years running, which would have been the case if we'd not beaten Glentoran, then it can be a struggle doing things the way you want to do them. Thankfully, we've got what we wanted and we can look forward to next season.

"There will be additions and exits but I'm happy with the numbers we have in the squad. As I said when I was first brought in, we won't ever sign someone just for the sake of it.

"Ryan Curran has already come in from Ballinamallard and he's not here to replace anybody, he's here in addition to what we already have.

"The club is in a much better place than it was 12 months ago. We've now got a settled management team, a settled squad and we've got European football to look forward to."

Where football delivers joy, it also dishes out pain and it was a tough afternoon for a Glentoran side who felt that Cliftonville's first goal should have been disallowed as well as insisting that home defender Garry Breen should have been sent off for the aberration that handed the east Belfast side a penalty.

With interim boss Ronnie McFall bowing out, it was left to trusted assisted Kieran Harding to reflect: "We are bemused by those decisions, decisions which ultimately cost us the game.

"We showed great character when the game was going against us. We did the same against Linfield in midweek. It just wasn't enough today."

Belfast Telegraph

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