ST JAMES’ SWIFTS were declared winners of the Ballymena Intermediate League on Saturday at the expense of fellow West Belfast side Belfast Celtic after they were found to have fielded an ineligible player during the campaign.

The Swifts went into Saturday’s game against Ballymoney at Riada Park on Saturday knowing a victory would seal the title and the chance to compete in a playoff for a place in the NIFL Premier Intermediate League.

 

They got off to a flying start when they raced ahead after six minutes with Sean Pat Donnelly getting on the scoresheet.

They had several opportunities to extend their lead before the break but were made to wait until the 55th minute when Ciaran Hyland doubled their advantage.

Both teams were reduced to 10 men with three minutes remaining, but the Swifts held on for the win and manager Barry Johnston said that the league win is “massive for the club.”

“It’s an unbelievable achievement for a tight knit community club to win a league title,” he said.

“It has taken us ten years to get here and it’s a huge reward for the supporters.

“There were buses full of fans who came to watch on Saturday and then a big crowd to welcome us back to the Rock Bar after the game, so it was a great day for the players after a tough season.”

The former Cliftonville midfield concedes that it will be a tall order to seal promotion to the third tier,

“We know the playoff is going to be really tough and we are massive underdogs, but we just need to play our game and give a good account of ourselves,” added Johnston.

Whilst the Swifts celebrated, Belfast Celtic have expressed their regret after they were hit with a 42-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player, which left their title dreams in tatters.

Stephen McAlorum’s side was pronounced winners of the Ballymena Intermediate League last month, before they were punished by the League Committee for their administrative error, with their appeal against the decision rejected by the IFA appeal board this week resulting in the club being forced to forfeit all games the player featured in.

Whilst taking responsibility for their mistake, the club were critical of how the appeal was handled by the IFA and hit out at the processes in place concerning player registration.
In a statement on Tuesday, a spokesperson said: “The club regret to announce that at the beginning of the season, we processed a player registration incorrectly and as a result, that player was been deemed ineligible to play for our club. This was an unfortunate human error, with no malice.

“The Ballymena League have therefore voided all games that he participated in, resulting in a 42-point deduction from our points total.

“Whilst we accept responsibility for the registration error, we did raise some important points in our appeal about duplicate registrations and clubs being able to re-register players without consent.

“We find it very concerning that the Appeals Board concluded that there is no prerequisite for player consent to be obtained by clubs when registering and re-registering players, particularly in light of the fact the IFA highlight in their ‘Comet’ training seminars that there is a need for consent before re-registering a player.

“Players need to be protected; they should have the opportunity to know what club they are registered to and give permission to the clubs who wish to sign them.

“We believe these points need addressing by the IFA and Leagues immediately. Innocent errors such as these have massive ramifications for clubs, and we believe that all Leagues and the IFA have a duty of care towards clubs to ensure this and similar administrative errors are identified through Comet reports rather than being raised by other clubs.

“All clubs are entitled to raise queries about player registrations within the league structures; it is a safeguard that helps identify potential errors that could advantage or disadvantage teams.

“In this case, no player or club benefited by the registration error that took place. No cheating or malice was involved; yet the players and coaches who achieved their goals, will not be recognised because of this error.”

The saga has overshadowed a great season on the pitch for Belfast Celtic, who had initially finished four points ahead of St James’ Swifts before being deducted points. In the statement the club were keen to highlight the progress made this term and vowed to right the wrongs of this campaign next season with McAlorum set to stay on as manager.

“We need to thank the players, coaching staff, volunteers, and supporters for their tireless efforts this season,” they continued.

“We are hugely disappointed to have lost the title challenge in this way. The players and management had a tremendous season and gave everything on the pitch to achieve their goal to win the league.

“Over the last two years, we were denied the opportunity to win the league due to Covid and now this, but rest assured we will be back next year stronger and ready to make amends.”