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Cork lifeline baffles Bray

WHEN IS a deadline not a deadline? That's the question a number of League of Ireland clubs are today, following last night's decision on club licences for the 2010 season, throwing in the direction of the FAI after Cork City were handed yet another lifeline for their battle to survive into their 26th year as a senior club.

The league could even be faced with a potential legal battle before the start of the new season -- the start of that season is already a matter of controversy as the fixture list will only be published 10 days before the league kicks off, a situation which would simply not be tolerated in any other country -- if Cork, despite missing three deadlines relating to licensing matters, are allowed to play in the Premier Division at the expense of a club like Bray Wanderers or Shelbourne, who have done what was asked of them and done things by the book.

Other clubs were asked to submit their accounts by the end of November, and then have either paid all debts or at least come to an agreement with creditors, by January 29, before licences were handed out last night.


Both deadlines came and went without Cork paying off their estimated debts of €300,000 to their many creditors, including current and former players, a former manager and former office staff, and despite Cork now missing a third deadline, the club may yet get to play in the Premier Division next season. It's lucky for Cork, and for the FAI, that the late Ollie Byrne is not around to witness the latest example of a fudge of the highest order by the FAI.

"It's very, very disappointing that we're still in this situation, in limbo," said Jack O'Neill, general manager of Bray Wanderers who were due to be relegated, along with Derry City, after finishing bottom of the league last season but could still get to stay up in place of Cork if they are booted out.

"It's very unfair on our fans and sponsors, and it looks like we will only get clarification 10 days before the season starts. It means yet another week of uncertainty and it's not ideal for anyone."

The FAI's licensing committee last night announced which clubs had received licences to compete in the league for the 2010 season, with 14 clubs awarded licences for the Premier Division (though only 10 teams can take part in that division), seven were given First Division licences, and five clubs awarded licences for the non-league A-Championship.

But the name of Cork City was conspicuous by its absence, the Munster outfit listed nowhere among the 26 clubs handed licences.

The omission of Cork was explained by the club's appearance at the High Court in Dublin yesterday, relating to a winding-up order taken by the Revenue Commissioners over an unpaid tax bill of €107,000.

In yet another appearance before Justice Mary Laffoy -- she has surely now seen Cork City FC first hand in her courtroom more often than many season-ticket holders -- the club asked for, and were given, yet another adjournment to clear up their affairs, the club pleading for more time to allow cash come into the club's account -- at that stage the account had been frozen by order of the taxman, as part of income due from the sale of players Kevin Long and David Meyler to English clubs.

That adjournment was granted and Justice Laffoy stated she would have the winding-up order struck out if Cork pay the Revenue the due sum of €107,653 by tomorrow. That gave more time to Cork and led to an FAI statement qualifying the awarding of the licences.

"The Independent Club Licensing Committee has deferred its decision on Cork City until after the High Court case comes in for mention on Monday, February 22 next," the FAI statement said.

"In making its decision, the Independent Club Licensing Committee noted that one of the fundamental principles of club licensing is the protection of creditors such as club employees, other clubs and the Revenue. The Independent Club Licensing Committee was made aware of a potential takeover which may result in commitments to creditors being honoured.

"As this takeover is dependent on the outcome of the High Court order, the Independent Committee felt it prudent to await that outcome and give maximum opportunity for creditors to be paid. The application from FORAS has been deferred pending the outcome of the Cork City decision."

In a nutshell, a consortium involving both the Quintas Group and supporters body FORAS is still keen to take over the club and have vowed to put up €200,000 to pay off football-related creditors like current and former players (one player still on the books at Cork has not been paid in 13 weeks) -- but their takeover is conditional on the club being awarded a Premier Division licence. Nothing can happen until the club gets a tax-clearance cert, and that won't happen until tomorrow, at the earliest, when the €158,000 Cork are due for the sale of Long (to Burnley) and Meyler (to Sunderland) comes into their account.

The FAI now know that the Quintas deal comes off the table if City are put into the First Division, and the dilemma is that every other club was tax-compliant before yesterday's deadline, so how can the FAI make an exception for Cork City?

One comment from yesterday's events was more telling than most. Closing up the case, Justice Laffoy -- who should be a folk hero to City given the amount of leeway she has given to the club in their many appearances in her court over the last year -- said: "Hopefully we won't be here again, although I said that on July 31."

Don't rule out more court dates for Cork just yet -- and not just in Ireland as Maltese club Floriana have today stated their intention to take a case to the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) over Roddy Collins's controversial exit from the club in December and his subsequent move to Cork.