Despite being finally put to bed last week, the ghost of the Newry v Larne debacle is continuing to haunt the IFA from beyond the grave.
The postponement of tonight’s replay has plunged the competition into further crisis as the replay will take on Saturday, the Quarter-Final against Coleraine for the winners, with a replay now scheduled for the date of the Semi-Finals, with Linfield fans not only cheering their team on against Glentoran on Easter Tuesday, but keeping an eye on another match in order to know if their team has a match the following Saturday.
Just think, if the business over the Newry v Larne game was handled in an efficient manner, the Newry v Loughgall tie would have been decided in mid-February.
Due to Linfield’s Setanta Cup commitments, the only free midweek is set aside for the replay (which would now be used for the Semi-final) meaning that if there was to be a replay, this would have to take place in the midweek between the conclusion of the league season, and the Irish Cup Final, with the winning team having to arrange sale of tickets and supporters having to arrange transport and events at a few days notice.
Put simply, it’s a farcical situation that should never have been allowed to get this far. Regular readers of this blog will know that this has been my viewpoint ever since it is escalated to an unacceptable level, not a reaction to my club being dragged into this mess.
It’s not often Linfield fans are jealous of Ballymena United and Portadown fans, but this is one of them. they know who they are due to play in the next round of the cup, whilst Linfield fans won’t know the final arrangements of their tie until the week of the game.
Surely, when the 6th round took place with only 7 fixtures, and Coleraine were drawn against one of three teams, alarm bells should have been ringing?
If that wasn’t enough, surely a Quarter-Final weekend with only three games where Linfield were drawn against one of four teams in the Semi-Final draw. Forget alarm bells, a bloody siren should have went off.
A lot has been made of the fact that nine teams were in the draw for the Irish Cup Semi-Finals. That wasn’t the farce. It’s not inconcievable that you could have four drawn Quarter-Finals resulting in eight teams in the draw. The real farce was, that one of the pots had four teams in it.
Almost un-noticed is the postponement of the game between Coleraine and Portadown, one of two games still to be played before the split. With the post-split fixtures already being decided by the teams being allocated numbers based on their provisional positions, the logical decision would be to let that game take place at another free date between now and the end of the season.
Unfortuantely, this game is to decide who gets the last top six split, and therefore, must be played as soon as possible as a matter of urgency.
This is the second successive season since the league was restructured, that fixture chaos has reigned. Last season, it all began at the start thankfully with plenty of time to rectify the situation, as various midweeks were taken up with County Antrim Shield, Setanta Cup and CIS Cup ties delayed the rescheduling of various league fixtures in need of re-arranging.
Sadly, for the second successive season, the IFA are finding that scheduling a 38 game league season rather than a 30 game season is a lot harder than it looks. Not even reducing the CIS Cup by three games, is helping to free up space.
So what can be done?
The most obvious victim is the County Antrim Shield, a competition sadly long past it’s sell-by date and not even on the radar of fans, who barely raise a groan when their team is eliminated or a cheer when their team wins it.
Questions must be raised at the scheduling of CIS Cup ties on Saturdays. I can understand the idea of 3rd round ties taking place on a Saturday, as an experiment. Sadly, it was an experiment which never really worked.
What baffled me was the scheduling of Quarter-Final ties on a Saturday in December, with various teams inactive on the biggest football day of the week, surely this Saturday could have been better used by arranging a league programme that day?
This fixture cahous, a result of a knock-on effect of postponements throughout December, January and February during (might I add, a once in a lifetime series of weather) adverse weather conditions has once again provided ammunition for advocates of Summer football.
What the pro-Summer football brigade will ignore, is the fact the League Of Ireland games this week have been postponed, as was five out of six Irish League games during a programme in August 2008.
We have to accept that we live in a country where we are at the mercy of the weather all year round. It’s not the adverse weather that is the problem in Irish League football, it’s the lack of free dates in which to re-arrange games into.
Let’s hope that when the schedule for the 2010-2011 Irish League season is announced, those in charge come up with a pre-emptive solution to this scheduling madness.