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Warrenpoint goalkeeper Byrne could be hit with largest ban in Irish FA history


Warrenpoint Town goalkeeper Mark Byrne

Warrenpoint Town goalkeeper Mark Byrne

Warrenpoint Town goalkeeper Mark Byrne

Warrenpoint Town goalkeeper Mark Byrne will face Irish FA disciplinary chiefs on Wednesday and could be hit with the biggest suspension in Irish League history.

Byrne has been charged with "bringing the game into disrepute" and with "assault or battery of an opponent or other person" following the melee towards the end of the 2-1 Irish Cup loss to Ballymena United at Milltown on Saturday, February 1.

The 19-year-old left the pitch during the sixth-round tie and ended up fighting with Ballymena supporters, who also spilled onto the pitch as a result of the fracas behind the goal.

Both clubs have been charged with "spectator misconduct" following the brawl and a disciplinary committee hearing will proceed on Wednesday, where it's widely expected that Byrne will receive a long-term ban, at least until the end of the season.

Both clubs are entitled to challenge the charges, or accept them and any resulting sanctions.

Byrne can expect a severe sanction as the unprecedented scenes represented one of the most serious incidents witnessed in the Irish League.

The young keeper will not be handed a life ban and the severity of his punishment will depend on any mitigating circumstances.

Warrenpoint chairman Connaire McGreevy has claimed that Byrne was "physically assaulted" and the subject of "sectarian verbal abuse".

United rejected the sectarian abuse allegation and it will be difficult for Warrenpoint to prove that, particularly if it was not mentioned in the referee's report.

The longest suspension ever handed out by the Irish FA was to five Crewe United players, who were banned for 13 months and fined £400 in April 2017 for placing bets on their own game against Warrenpoint.

Irish FA disciplinary chiefs will seek to reach a balanced, fair and rational decision while at the same time knowing they must send out a message that such incidents are serious.

Questions will also be asked regarding health and safety issues at Warrenpoint and what ground improvements are needed.

Even a ground closure for a period of time cannot be ruled out.

Byrne, who was red-carded over the incident, is serving a three-game ban for violent conduct.

The PSNI, who launched their own enquiries into the incident alongside the IFA’s inquest, commented on their own investigation: “A number of individuals have been spoken to and enquiries are continuing.”

McGreevy added: “We will conclude our internal investigations and work with the Irish FA and PSNI on any investigations they will commence.”

Byrne will have to attend Wednesday’s hearing and give his version of the incident.

His young age and previous conduct will be taken into consideration.

In the past, the IFA have handed out several suspensions for offences covered by the Articles both the teams and Byrne have been charged with.

With regards to the two teams’ breach of Article 33, there has been one previous instance of this back in March 2018, when Glenavon player-manager Gary Hamilton was given a five-match ban for “unsporting conduct” towards the fourth official in a game in which he was sent off.

There have been plenty more instances of suspensions dished out for “bringing the game into disrepute”, however, including Jay Donnelly’s four-and-a-half-month ban back in April 2019 after being found guilty of sharing an indecent image of a child.

Donnelly served a three-month prison sentence for the offence.

Cliftonville sacked the player after he was given his prison sentence. He admitted the charge of distributing an indecent image of a child in November 2018 and was sentenced to four months in prison in January, 2019.

His original sentence was reduced by an appeal judge to three months. The striker is now rebuilding his career with Belfast Celtic.

In July 2018, Jay’s brother Ruaidhri was banned for three months with half of the sanction suspended until the end of the 2018-19 season for a breach of betting regulations while a Cliftonville player.

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