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Irish Cup: Ineligibility Issue Could See Glentoran Expelled

Joe Crowe suspension unserved as he took the field yesterday... but IFA’s COMET system seemed to recognize his eligibility...

Joe Crowe (right) in action against Newry City AFC yesterday.

It could be good news for Championship table-toppers, Newry City...

Beaten 0-1 at the Oval yesterday in the Irish Cup, the Borderers could see their run in the competition actually extended as Glentoran featured suspended (or was he?) Joe Crowe in yesterday’s line-up.

All really depends on the value placed on information contained on the IFA’s COMET system detailing player registration, eligibility, disciplinary records and suspensions etc. It is believed COMET (which didn’t list Crowe ineligible for yesterday’s cup tie) served as Glentoran’s reference point, the club understanding Crowe’s suspension already completed and therefore the player eligible for selection.

This all goes back a few weeks...

Little would anyone have known then that Joe Crowe’s dismissal during the Linfield Swifts v Glentoran II Premiership Development League fixture on Valentine’s Night, could eventually lead to the club’s potential expulsion from the Irish Cup.

Crowe’s suspension ensured he missed the next three Glentoran II games apparently against Lisburn Distillery, Larne Olympic and Glenavon Reserves.

But crucially the meeting with Lisburn Distillery was in the Intermediate Cup, whose eligibility rules state that any player with more than 12 senior appearances during the current season is ineligible.

Prior to the Intermediate Cup game Joe Crowe made 16 senior appearances (11 starts) in 2021/22 making him ineligible for that fixture which therefore could not be counted as one of his three suspended games.

Looks cut and dried then? Well, not exactly....

It appears, at least some clubs rely on the COMET system for determining player eligibility. But is it ok to do so?

This is where greyness comes in and key questions need responses...

a) does the Irish FA consider the information contained in the system accurate and complete and an absolutely binding service to the clubs; THE BIBLE in other words, when it comes to checking player details including eligibility?

b) does the Irish FA consider that due diligence remains with the clubs to ensure their players serve suspensions as handed down, and for the clubs not to rely on COMET as the single determining source?

c) why does the Irish FA oversee and provide COMET as a service to clubs at all, if its accuracy cannot be guaranteed and relied upon? Why use it if it’s so unreliable?

I suspect the respective answers to those questions are, ‘No’, ‘Yes’ and ‘No Idea’.

It is beyond doubt Glentoran is in breach of Irish Cup rules. And while it is totally incomprehensible for a professional club not to perform its own due diligence with regard to suspensions and player eligibility, really all that remains to be seen is whether the inaccuracy of COMET is considered a mitigating factor against the club’s clearly unintentional indiscretion.

The other element of this of course is if Joe Crowe’s suspension is still deemed unserved, then he will also be unavailable for Glentoran’s crunch Premiership table-topping clash with Cliftonville on Tuesday evening.

Another big crowd turned out at The Oval yesterday, but was it all in vain, unless of course you were part of the sizeable Newry contingent which could yet have the last laugh?

You do wonder at the swiftness with which the potential issue was highlighted.

I received a text from another Irish League ground soon after the cup games concluded on Saturday highlighting the issue. The news was still an hour away from breaking on mainstream media.

For this to happen, there has to be someone, somewhere, sitting primed and waiting to pounce, upon confirmation of Joe Crowe’s inclusion for yesterday’s game.

Unless there’s a mole at Glentoran it didn’t come from their camp. You suspect not the governing body’s either, since their very own COMET system allowed for the player’s selection. So you wonder who the forces at play were, that absolutely had to know detailed Intermediate Cup rules and have the 2021/22 playing record of Joe Crowe at hand.

Whomever the detective, it’s a great sleuthing job, without which the issue couldn’t possibly have emerged, at least in such haste.

The issue raises many questions on various levels, not least; unhealthy disregard for the spirit of the rules, Glentoran’s lack of diligence and the integrity of the IFA’s own COMET system.

And, at the end of the day, it’s difficult to find anywhere, another professional body of clubs so plagued by administration errors down through the years, as those involved in senior football in this country.

Are our rules too convoluted, perhaps too ancient (not the particular one currently at issue) and in need of review, or is it simply incompetence on the part of the clubs?