Glentoran manager Mick McDermott says he has no regrets over his club’s Irish Cup eligibility fight but it has rekindled memories of another painful episode in his career.
The Belfast man was again left reflecting on what might have been when Iran saw their 2012 Olympic dream lie in tatters.
Iran were penalised with a 3-0 defeat for fielding an ineligible player in a 2-0 win over Iraq during qualifiers for the 2012 Games in London.
“The Irish Cup was a kick in the teeth and it did have an impact on the atmosphere at the club,” reflected the Glens boss.
“It was the moment of losing a place in the Irish Cup which was difficult. I had to look at the boys in training and you have to deal with that.
“No one was more disappointed than me. I lost an Olympic Games because of a similar issue.
“Iran, who had never been to an Olympics, won 2-0 in Iraq. We had a big advantage over our rivals in the play-off to go to the Olympics.
“We were happy going into the return leg in the National Stadium in front of around 70,000 people.
“We got a fax through two hours before kick-off that they had awarded a 3-0 win to Iraq.
“We started the game attacking as we trailed 3-0 but the crowd thought we were leading 2-0!
“They hit us on the break and scored, the fans were going mad but we lost because we had subbed on a player who had picked up yellow cards during the qualification.
“We lost the Olympic Games but that anger turned into hunger and two years later we qualified for the World Cup.”
McDermott was fitness coach with Iran during their successful World Cup 2014 qualification campaign.
Now he’s been dealt another body blow with an Irish Cup KO that leaves his side sweating on a European place.
The east Belfast side must emerge victorious from the end-of-season play-offs which are fraught with risk and danger.
Left shattered by their Irish Cup setback, Glentoran opted to challenge the ruling through an arbitration hearing but they were left with a heavy legal bill and wounded pride.
The Glens claimed that a player’s total minutes on the pitch should determine their eligibility, not the number of games that they have played.
The argument was dismissed by the arbitrator Jane Bickerstaff QC.
Glentoran stated Joe Crowe played an aggregate of 11.6 90-minute matches across 16 senior games.
Intermediate Cup rules state a player must have played no more than 12 senior matches.
Crowe was suspended for three matches after being sent off while playing for Glentoran’s reserves.
He missed three matches, however as he was ineligible for the Intermediate Cup it was deemed he had only served two games of the suspension before featuring in the Irish Cup quarter-final win over Newry City.
The Glens elected for arbitration after an initial appeal against expulsion was dismissed by the Irish FA.
Glentoran said Crowe was available on the Comet system prior to the Irish Cup game with Newry but it was ruled that the club “bears ultimate responsibility” for checking whether a player is eligible for a match and “the onus is on the club to seek verification of information”.
McDermott accepts lessons need to be learned from the episode but he defended the club’s decision to fight the ruling.
“I would do the same again,” he said. “If you have advice from the experts, you take that advice. You have to trust their knowledge.
“If I want to invest my money I’ll go to someone who knows about investing. If my car breaks down I won’t argue with the mechanic what the issue is.
“You have to trust those giving you advice. I feel for the players and the fans because players may never get the chance to play in an Irish Cup final again.
“You learn from it and must turn anger into hunger.”
If Crusaders win the Irish Cup, the Glens will have a home clash with Glenavon on May 10. If Ballymena United lift the trophy, McDermott’s side will be at home to either Coleraine or Glenavon on May 14.
“Hopefully the pitch will look well and the home advantage is important,” added McDermott.
“There are financial benefits to having a home game as well but it still sticks in my throat to say we have finished third, but that is where we finished.
“We have talked about it, we are all part of it and we dropped points at key moments.”
One bright light amid some of the gloom at the BetMcLean Oval has been the impressive form of midfielder Seanan Clucas.
“Seanan has done well,” said McDermott. “When he arrived here he was on a six-game ban but he no longer needs to launch into challenges.
“We have had some big wins with him and he’s definitely another player frustrated not to play in an Irish Cup semi-final or final.
“Right now, all our energies will go into the play-offs.”