Belfast Telegraph

IFA are bound to take flak but we can all play better

By Graham Luney

What's the difference between the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight and the Irish Cup Final? Answer... it's easier to get tickets for the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.

On May 2 you just might have a better chance of securing a ringside seat for the Las Vegas showdown than watching Portadown and Glentoran go toe-to-toe at Windsor Park.

The word now sending shivers down the spines of Irish League fans is 'Ticketmaster.'

There was widespread anger among supporters when news emerged that the Irish FA were insisting that tickets for this season's showpiece were only being sold via the American ticket sales and distribution company online.

There are fears fans will not be able to get their hands on tickets, face increased charges or end up segregated within their own support, unable to meet up with friends they sit beside throughout the season.

Even Alliance MP Naomi Long has raised fans' concerns with the IFA who, perhaps, never expected this backlash.

Hell hath no fury like Irish League fans scorned.

It would be a huge tragedy if fans missed out on the chance to cheer on their side in the first Glens v Ports final since 2000.

Talk of a boycott may come to nothing, but it's still distressing to hear and reflects the anger of some who simply want to savour their biggest game of the season.

There's also a safety issue to consider as fans who have been a source of trouble in the past can easily access tickets for big games - and sit where they like.

The Irish FA haven't covered themselves in glory this season on the domestic front and they came in for some fierce and deserved criticism after the Gary Hamilton suspension debacle. This is another stick with which to beat the association, but before we take the moral high ground and aim arrrows in their direction, let's remember that we all have our flaws and we all get things wrong from time to time.

The supporters don't always behave responsibly, as we witnessed at the Irish Cup semi-final between Glentoran and Crusaders.

The pitch invasion, while understandable given the significance of the win to Glentoran fans, would make even the most relaxed Health and Safety officer sweat.

All of us -nd I include fans, clubs, the Irish FA, Northern Ireland Football League and the media - could do better.

Many players I have spoken to admit we have a fantastic product, but it needs to be marketed and promoted better. In the Irish FA's defence they have organised efficient press conferences ahead of Irish Cup finals and semi-finals. As for the Country Antrim Shield, no-one seems to know when that's played or when the draws take place.

Clubs are quick to complain about negative publicity, but sometimes aren't so productive when it comes to promoting themselves and reaching out to their communities.

Yet there's still a perception that the IFA cares little about the Irish League.

Such an approach would be dangerous if the IFA want to keep players such as Gareth McAuley, Stuart Dallas, Niall McGinn and Alan Mannus blossoming into talented international players.

A meeting will be held on Thursday to resolve ticketing issues concerning the Irish Cup final and common sense should prevail.

The sale of tickets through Ticketmaster can work, but fans must be able to access them through other avenues.

The fans who pay in week in, week out, have contributed in their own small way to keeping the doors open at clubs and they deserve to be heard on this issue.

Belfast Telegraph

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