Carrick Rangers blew the whistle on the Irish FA's latest registration blunder that could have plunged the Danske Bank Premiership into turmoil.
Linfield manager David Healy was fuming on Saturday after having to pull winger Joel Cooper out of his starting line-up just 40 minutes before his side's 6-0 home win over Warrenpoint for fear that the player would have been ineligible.
This was after the Blues believed everything had been sorted with the paperwork concerning Cooper's loan deal from Oxford United until the end of the season.
Had Cooper played, Linfield could have been open to punishment and the potential loss of three points through no fault of their own having done all they felt was necessary to register the player.
Carrick were in the same boat with Jordan Jenkins who they signed last week on loan from Glenavon until the end of the campaign.
The young striker was being lined up to play against Portadown on Saturday - which was postponed - only for Carrick to investigate the issue and discover on Friday night there were problems with the IFA registration system.
An inquiry will be launched by the IFA this morning. Senior officials are said to be both embarrassed and livid at the failings they believed technology had put behind them.
The intervention from Carrick laid bare serious questions and concerns over deals in the January transfer window with evidence of confusion in regard to the dates loan players could be registered to.
It is understood that the forms for both Cooper and Jenkins were processed by the IFA, loaded on to the Comet system and approved giving the impression that both players would be available for selection on Saturday.
Wide-awake Carrick officials realised that all was not right and held late-night talks on Friday with the Irish FA along with Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) chairman Gerard Lawlor and NIFL Interim Managing Director Steven Mills. Linfield were then alerted to the Cooper situation.
Carrick chairman Peter Clarke stated: “We were amazed there were so many gaps in the process and that so many errors were made in the registration and subsequent communication.
“NIFL were fully supportive to find a simple solution where clubs and players had done what they believed was right having received information from the IFA that made them believe players were properly registered, but while NIFL were supportive — and credit must go to Gerard Lawlor and Steven Mills — I have to say unfortunately the IFA didn’t seem to have the same will.”
One wonders when the issue would have come to light had Carrick not delved deep. Also, how many times would clubs have played ineligible players which possibly could have seen them lose points at a later time?
Asked about the controversial situation, an IFA spokesperson said: “The Irish FA are aware of the matter and are looking into it.”
An IFA meeting will take place today in an attempt to sort out the issue with clubs seeking answers and clarification ahead of a full round of Premiership fixtures tomorrow night.
This is the latest in a long line of embarrassments for the IFA with the registration of players. They date back decades though it was hoped with the introduction of the Comet system — a central source where everybody can see which players are registered and suspended — that those days were over.
Speaking to Sunday Life, Blues boss Healy said: “The IFA were given Joel’s contract, they signed it off, the loan agreement and all the relevant dates, but there was a mess up. It is embarrassing but it doesn’t surprise me.”