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IFA to launch investigation as Warrenpoint goalkeeper brawls with Ballymena fans during cup tie

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Warrenpoint Town and Ballymena United brawl as the Irish Cup tie at Milltown ends in melee. Credit: BBC

Warrenpoint Town and Ballymena United brawl as the Irish Cup tie at Milltown ends in melee. Credit: BBC

Warrenpoint Town and Ballymena United brawl as the Irish Cup tie at Milltown ends in melee. Credit: BBC

Warrenpoint Town and Ballymena United brawl as the Irish Cup tie at Milltown ends in melee. Credit: BBC

Warrenpoint Town and Ballymena United brawl as the Irish Cup tie at Milltown ends in melee. Credit: BBC

Warrenpoint Town and Ballymena United brawl as the Irish Cup tie at Milltown ends in melee. Credit: BBC

Warrenpoint Town and Ballymena United brawl as the Irish Cup tie at Milltown ends in melee. Credit: BBC

Warrenpoint Town and Ballymena United brawl as the Irish Cup tie at Milltown ends in melee. Credit: BBC

Warrenpoint Town and Ballymena United brawl as the Irish Cup tie at Milltown ends in melee. Credit: BBC

Warrenpoint Town and Ballymena United brawl as the Irish Cup tie at Milltown ends in melee. Credit: BBC

Warrenpoint Town and Ballymena United brawl as the Irish Cup tie at Milltown ends in melee. Credit: BBC

Warrenpoint Town and Ballymena United brawl as the Irish Cup tie at Milltown ends in melee. Credit: BBC

Warrenpoint Town and Ballymena United brawl as the Irish Cup tie at Milltown ends in melee. Credit: BBC

Warrenpoint Town and Ballymena United brawl as the Irish Cup tie at Milltown ends in melee. Credit: BBC

Warrenpoint Town and Ballymena United brawl as the Irish Cup tie at Milltown ends in melee. Credit: BBC

It was mayhem at Milltown. In injury time in this Irish Cup sixth round tie Warrenpoint Town goalkeeper Mark Byrne jumped into the Ballymena United supporters behind his goal and the madness began.

Punches were thrown, people were injured, players and management from both teams ran to calm the craziness down, a part of the fence Byrne scaled collapsed in the fracas causing even more concern for safety and faces of adults and children filled with fear and horror watched on in other sections of the ground.

Byrne, a promising 19-year-old from Dundalk, was dragged away from the skirmish by other players. Within seconds referee Shane Andrews had shown the teenager the red card.

As he made his way to the dressing room it looked as though more trouble would erupt with Ballymena fans close by but thank heavens cooler heads prevailed.

Andrews didn't restart the game. It was a common sense decision and there were no complaints from either side.

Then recriminations and allegations kicked off. Claim was followed by counter claims as supporters from both sides aired their views on what happened amid a tense and fraught atmosphere.

From the Warrenpoint side there were allegations that Byrne had been the subject of verbal abuse from United fans throughout the game, his father had been attacked behind the goal and that their player had waded in as an act of protection for his dad.

From Ballymena there were claims that the young goalkeeper had spat at their fans prior to racing towards them and letting fly.

What is certain is that there will be an IFA investigation into this incident which at Milltown drew comparisons with the infamous night 30 years ago when Eric Cantona, then playing for Manchester United, jumped into the crowd at Crystal Palace to attack a supporter who was giving him abuse as he walked to the tunnel after being shown a red card.

Ballymena won the game 2-1 – and kept their season alive - thanks to a well taken 88th minute finish from Andy McGrory after Brandon Doyle and Kyle Owens had swapped second half goals.

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Warrenpoint Town goalkeeper Mark Byrne after the final whistle. Pacemaker

Warrenpoint Town goalkeeper Mark Byrne after the final whistle. Pacemaker

All the talk though was about Mark Byrne. The goalkeeper's dad needed medical attention to a head wound after the match. Ballymena confirmed two of their young supporters had also been hurt in the incident.

Warrenpoint chairman Connaire McGreevy: “It is very disappointing because it takes away from what was a very competitive game of football.

“Our goalkeeper has reacted to a situation. He has listened to a lot of abuse the whole way through and what is alleged is his father was attacked behind the net and the player has turned round, saw this and reacted.

“That's not what we want. Football should be enjoyed but abuse has been happening week in week out for goalkeepers across this league and now is time for urgent action to address it, not just our goalkeeper but others who have threatened to walk off pitches.”

On Friday the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) released a statement declaring that the Irish Premiership clubs had agreed to take measures to tackle a recent rise in alleged incidents of “unacceptable spectator behaviour”.

“Abuse is not on. That said our player should not have reacted the way he has and we will be investigating it thoroughly,” added McGreevy.

Ballymena counterpart John Taggart said: “I don't know the reason he made his way into the crowd but he shouldn't be in the crowd.

“I understand from talking to one of our young fans who was injured that he was punched and kicked in the side of the head. He is only 16-year-old and he was dazed. There was another young chap from Ballymena who also got hit in the mouth and the nose and was bleeding. I am annoyed and disappointed with what happened.”

Quizzed on allegations that the goalkeeper was protecting his father, Taggart said: “I don't know anything about that. We all need to be sensible. The place for players is on the pitch. The place for supporters is behind the line.”

United boss David Jeffrey admitted he did not see the incident and that his main concern was for player safety while Warrenpoint manager Barry Gray stated: “What happened at the end of the game is not acceptable. Who is to blame for that? That is for the powers to be to decide.”

Asked about the allegations that his goalkeeper spat at opposition fans, Gray added: “I cannot say yes he did or no he didn't. If people are looking for me to wave a magic wand I don't have it. If I did I would quickly undo what happened.”

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