Player ineligibility issue leads to double cup blow for Albert Foundry
Albert Foundry manager Colin McIlwaine has vowed to pick his players up from the heartbreak of discovering they are set to be dismissed from two of local football’s top competitions over a player eligibility error.
The Paisley Park side face expulsion from the Steel & Sons Cup and Irish Cup after it emerged they fielded a player signed after the Northern Ireland Football League’s August 31 transfer deadline.
Andrew Dillon, a 19-year-old goalkeeper who had signed from Shankill United in late September, helped his new side over come his former club in Saturday’s Irish Cup second round derby, as covered by The Park.
With the transfer deadline only introduced last season, and not affecting Amateur League football in any other way than in cup competitions involving NIFL teams, several clubs have fallen by the wayside when it comes to keeping up with the new rules, and Foundry appear to be the latest.
The news is particularly galling for crest-fallen boss Colin McIlwaine and his players, who had guided the club all the way into the quarter-finals of the Steel & Sons Cup, and fancied their chances of a semi-final berth with a tie against fellow amateurs Crumlin Star (previously described by McIlwaine as “winnable”) scheduled for this weekend.
That will obviously not now take place, and instead, Foundry’s beaten fourth round opponents UUJ are reinstated to face Crumlin Star at The Cliff, Larne on Friday night (7.30pm), while Shankill will take their local rivals’ place in the Irish Cup third round draw.
Reflecting on the developments which have rocked his season in a matter of days, McIlwaine said: “I am totally and utterly disgusted for the players. I was completely oblivious to this rule… it wasn’t until people at the match started saying to me that I knew anything about it.
“I had been blaming myself a bit for it, but the more I have looked at it, the more I realise there was no way I could have known. Our secretary, John Larmour, has been around our club for a long time, and he realises he has made a mistake. He is totally devastated, but this isn’t about him, me, or anyone else. It is about the team.
“We cancelled training and had a meeting instead to let everyone know what had happened… there had obviously been a lot of rumours going round and people were talking anyway.
“Now we have to pick ourselves up and look forward to the rest of the season. We have a big league campaign and the Intermediate Cup next week to look forward to. We’re also in the quarter-finals of the Border Cup.
And McIlwaine is convinced that his players have what it takes to bounce back from this bitter disappointment.
He added: “Knowing the character of my boys, they’ll move forward from it. This is more than just a football club – everyone here is playing for the shirt.”
There’s no question the Foundry manager is keen to put the unfortunate episode behind him, but he also believes it opens up a bigger issue to be addressed.
Andrew Dillon’s signature was attained following serious injuries to first choice goalkeeper Craig Kennedy, then subsequently, to reserve keeper Jonathan Hull.
McIlwaine asked of the County Antrim FA (who organise the Steel & Sons Cup) and Irish FA (who organise the Irish Cup): “What do they want us to do? In our situation, are we supposed to put in a youth team goalkeeper or one of the outfield players in goal until January?
“And that’s only the club’s point of view. What about the players who aren’t getting a look-in at the Championship clubs? They come to the Amateur League for the chance to get regular football – are they going to be told, by the way, you aren’t going to be allowed to play in any of the big cup competitions?
“It’s isn’t our fault that there’s a transfer window for Championship teams. It is restricting us, and it isn’t fair on any of us.”
However, Fred Magee, the Steel & Sons Cup Media Officer, as well as secretary for Championship One side Harland & Wolff Welders, pointed out: “The rules quite clearly state that you can’t play any player signed after August 31 in a cup match. It means that all clubs have a level playing field.
“Say, at the Welders, for our quarter-final against Immaculata this weekend, they wanted to strengthen their squad and bring in new players. That wouldn’t be fair at all, because we wouldn’t be able to do it.”
The long-serving Welders secretary also commended Foundry as a club for coming forward to the County Antrim FA with their admission once they were aware of what happened.
At the same time, the amount of discussion that followed Saturday’s game around this incident, combined with the irrefutable facts would have effectively left this an open-and-shut case.
Magee added: “The onus isn’t on us to go and find out which teams have broken the rules, but in this case, the lines were buzzing everywhere. It was on Facebook, it was on Twitter, it was up and down the Shankill Road.
“This was obviously a genuine mistake by Foundry, and it is a minefield; it’s getting harder to keep across the rules. I was gutted for Glentoran II last season, when they won the final, but as soon as we knew about their ineligible player, we had no option but to take the trophy off them.”
Aside from Crumlin Star’s clash with UUJ, the three other remaining quarter-finals take place on Saturday. Immaculata host the Welders, Bangor travel to Ballyclare Comrades, and Dundela make the short trip to Breda Park to take on Hugh Sinclair’s Knockbreda. All three kick off at 2pm.
Belfast Telegraph Digital