The Irish Cup is the most glamourous competition in Northern Ireland football — but this season it has been treated with all the grace of an oily rag.
The intermediate clubs who enter at the first stage in September harbour hopes of making it into the new year when they might be rewarded with a tie against a senior club.
For those at the top of the pyramid, it’s all about a sunny day out in May and dancing around Windsor Park with ribbons in their team’s colour tied to the gleaming silver trophy.
The Irish FA vowed to take strong and swift action when players from Newry City and Larne brawled on the pitch during a fifth round meeting, leading the abandonment of the game.
Alan Patterson, who won four Irish Cup medals with Glentoran in the 1980s, was commentating on the game for radio and branded it the worst violence he had ever seen on a football pitch.
Strong? Not really, only one player was suspended for any more than two games and the fines totalled less than £2,500.
Swift? Definitely not.
A full nine weeks later Loughgall — who had the misfortune to be drawn against Newry or Larne in round six — have yet to kick another ball in the competition after beating Ards Rangers in the fifth round.
That Newry v Larne game was played way back on January 16, now because of the ramifications and failure to take quick and decisive action, the final, four months later was set to be delayed.
It may surprise some people, but the Irish FA does plan ahead and the date of May 8 will have been set for the 2010 Irish Cup final quite some time ago. Maybe even two years in advance.
Now, despite a plan to move the final, the IFA have finally decided to get the competition back on course
Plan B was to delay the final by a full fortnight, because of fears that if replays are needed in the preceding rounds there wouldn’t be enough free dates to allow those to be cleared up in time for the final and because the FA Cup and Setanta Sports Cup finals are down for decision the following Saturday.
But this morning, the IFA announced that the sixth round tie between Loughgall and Newry City will take place this Saturday at 1pm, two hours before the Co-Operative Insurance Cup final between Coleraine and
Glentoran, although the IFA will sanction the Irish Cup tie this Friday night, if both clubs so wish.
Coleraine will then play their Irish Cup quarter final against either Loughgall or Newry City the following Saturday, April 3, leaving the competition on course for both semi finals to be played on schedule on April 10.
Linfield await the winners of the much delayed quarter final with Ballymena United facing up to Portadown in the other semi final.
When the arctic conditions which gripped Northern Ireland in January caused a plethora of league postponements there was a real fear that the season would have to be extended.
That fixture backlog will be all but cleared up when five Carling Premiership games take place tonight — with only four more matches outstanding — but now only Coleraine’s first Carling Premiership game after the split, and possibly Newry City’s - if they get past Championship side Loughgall, will be have to be rearranged.
It’s been a long wait.