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Friday 24 November 2017

No winners in Barca farce

While FAI are busy putting out 'friendly' fires, real focus should be on Trap

WHAT would Ollie Byrne make of all of this? Somewhere in the next life, he must be holding his sides. You can almost here his voice: "Amateurs, bleedin' amateurs."

Giovanni Trapattoni would get Ollie straight away. He's an old fox himself and he grinned his way through the first press conference of a two-week stint avoiding all potentially tumultuous issues involving Barcelona and Real Madrid, threw in a few words about the Champions League final and off he went into the Malahide sunshine.

The weather's up and so is Trap so that's the good news. He's working with talented young footballers and he's clearly happy, though it would be nicer in Corsica.

Give it a few days, a hike in temperature and the salty, windswept acres around Gannon Park will seem like the Amalfi Coast.

But back to Ollie. As a matter of certainty, the Limerick/Barca debacle would never have happened if Ollie was still with us because Shelbourne would have been in there first with an offer the Catalans couldn't refuse and signatures attached to contracts post haste.

He would have squared away Merrion Square politics and flogged himself sleepless selling tickets.

Ollie piled them through the turnstiles for friendlies and financed a mad skite at the Champions League from the proceeds.

He arranged a network of money-generating operations around him and channelled it all into what must have been an extraordinarily vivid boyhood dream.

In his head, he carried an image of Shelbourne duking it out with Europe's elite and it sustained him into adulthood, fuelling a wild ambition which managed to devour significant chunks of the League of Ireland's credibility along the way.

Ollie played the rule book like a harp, finessing the best minds the football family could muster and when a dispute ended up in a legal arena, more than held his own against lads who quibble for a living.

He wasn't great at the public relations though and didn't mind settling a row himself if he felt the circumstances warranted it. Such eccentric habits caused people to give him a wide berth, are ya with me?

He had passion to burn, though, and a raging tunnel vision which only allowed Shelbourne to win -- never mind the consequences for everyone else.

It was all about money for Ollie and then winning and then money again in the eternal circle. But he lost too and for those occasions, he had the rule book.

There's a bewildering amount of words now in the public domain about Limerick FC's efforts to play a football match in their home city but a few more about Ollie Byrne and the not so old days are very relevant.

Ollie knew instinctively that Irish football is so riven by bitter rivalry on an almost street by street level that nobody was going to give Shels a free lunch. So he wanted to own the restaurant.

It was a totally unsustainable model and while rampant self-interest remains at the heart of the matter, nothing will change much.



SeLf-interest

But self-interest is still the dominant force in football at all levels in Ireland and with the League of Ireland in a state of continual flux and survival a raw issue for everyone, Limerick FC were perfectly within their rights to pitch for a big friendly in Thomond particularly when they included such an intention as part of their UEFA licensing renewal.

After that, there shouldn't really be any more debate. The FAI have accepted that they didn't spell out in detail the consequences of a third-party agreement which precludes them from sanctioning friendlies above a certain capacity, a number which has fallen like the euro for the past few days.

The only information Limerick appear to have had was the fact that they had to run the fixture past the FAI for a rubber stamp.

There's no doubt that valid questions have now been raised about the exact nature of the arrangement between Limerick and Barca but irrespective of that, the endeavour should have been encouraged and not blocked.

They may well be naive and swimming in shark-infested waters but they were doing their best for the club and for that, they should be applauded.

The easy solution was for the FAI to ask their third-party stakeholder for a free pass on this one and then sit down and discuss the issue with the League of Ireland clubs as a group.

Last night, the League clubs agreed to back Limerick FC's request to see a copy of the third-party contract at the centre of the row but they stopped short of sending a communal letter to the FAI.

That represents a serious escalation of the row and an unusual sign of unity, even if there was division during discussions and some confusion about whether the clubs had also signed the letter (they didn't).

By now, we've all forgotten about the wonderful new stadium sitting like the Hindenberg in repose out in D4 and the work of Trapattoni while he mines for raw gems progresses without fanfare.

But this story has legs yet and the issue is certain to be further complicated and exacerbated by the imminent announcement of the return of Ronaldo to our shores around the same time as Manchester United and if Limerick get their way, Barcelona are on the island -- a remarkable thing in itself if you stop and think about it for a second.

Was there no way the whole lot could have been stitched together into a tournament -- split between Thomond and Lansdowne Road. As things stand, everyone loses.

Here's another suggestion. The word in the undergrowth is that Athlone Town's hook-up with Real Madrid is well in the planning and that the club has the backing of some political heavyweights for the fixture.

But just in case there's a problem with this game, why not move it to Lansdowne Road, pay the FAI a big cut and Athlone more than they could ever hope to make on home turf. As the song goes, 'money's too tight to mention' so how could all concerned turn down a proposition like that?

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