The FAI will today review the circumstances that led to yesterday’s Dublin Derby between Shelbourne and St Patrick’s Athletic not taking place as scheduled, with tensions running high around the loss of another game on account of European matters.
Late on Friday night it was confirmed the game was off after St Patrick’s Athletic informed the FAI they would only be arriving back into Ireland on Sunday morning, after a delayed return from Bulgaria following Thursday’s big European win over CSKA Sofia.
Charter issues lay behind their delayed return en masse, but Shels are understood to be furious, believing arrangements could have been made to get the team into the country earlier.
St Patrick’s Athletic will strongly defend their position, claiming matters were taken out of their hands and the FAI’s disciplinary wing will have to consider the case, with language in a statement from Shelbourne strongly hinting they are looking for the points rather than a rescheduling.
They said season ticket holders and ticket purchasers would be contacted in relation to refunds.
“We trust this review will recognise that rescheduling would cause a further fixture backlog for Shelbourne FC. As it stands, we have had just two home games in three months,” said the Shelbourne missive.
“Equally, it is incredibly unfair on our supporters, volunteers and the Gardaí to have had Sunday’s game called off at short notice, especially considering that this fixture had previously been rescheduled from Friday.”
In their statement, the Saints said they were appreciative of the FAI’s understanding as regards their “predicament”.
They added: “Under UEFA regulations, the use of charters for European games is mandatory from the third qualifying round on.
“Because of the current difficulties in the aviation industry, which are well known, we and our travel brokers have had immense difficulty sourcing charters, the result of which has left the players and staff in Sofia and not in a position to return to Dublin until the early hours of Sunday morning.”
Significantly, the FAI statement did not say the match had been postponed and would be rescheduled at a later date, the standard line used when fixtures are shelved. They merely said the game “would not go ahead as scheduled” and a “further announcement will be made in due course regarding next steps”.
Shels boss Damien Duff is known to be furious. The Reds’ frustration is enhanced by the fact that another big home match with Rovers – which was in the diary for July 15 – was lost because of the Hoops’ European run.
That came between Rovers’ away days against Hibernians of Malta and Ludogorets in Bulgaria and league rules do say clubs can look for a game to be postponed if they have to travel on successive weeks.
Rovers did try to get this coming Friday’s league trip to Derry refixed and if they progress past Shkupi of Macedonia in the Europa League tomorrow then they will be on the road again next week to face either Qarabag or Ferencvaros.
However, it’s understood the FAI indicated to Rovers that from the third round onward they would be expected to fulfil their fixture commitments at home.
Derry weren’t willing to budge as regards dates, with Ruaidhrí Higgins explaining his stance after his side’s 1-1 draw in Dundalk on Friday, arguing Rovers were OK to play against non-league Bangor Celtic just three days after a European tie.
“We were in Riga and got back on a Friday evening and played Finn Harps on a Sunday evening,” said Higgins, whose side exited continental competition at the first hurdle. He said he would welcome a clear policy.
“I don’t think you can decide who you want a game on against and who you want a game off against. You can’t say it’s OK to play an FAI Cup game but it’s not OK to play a league game
“If roles were reversed, would they [accommodate Derry]? We’ve to look after Derry City Football Club. We want our teams to do well in Europe because it helps everybody, but we’ve a job to do.”
Dundalk boss Stephen O’Donnell said he is envious of the clubs involved in Europe this year and that colours his view of any sympathy for them as regards congestion.
“Give me the nights St Pat’s had and Shamrock Rovers have had and the ones we had previously and then you deal with those headaches on a Sunday,” he said.