Derry City manager Kenny Shiels cut a frustrated figure after they were humbled at the hands of Cork City in the SSE Airtricity League on Monday evening. It wasn’t the manner of the defeat that irked the Derry City boss, getting stuffed 5-0 is a tough one to take, but even harder is the sense of injustice with comes with being forced into taking the longest trip in Irish football just days after an away game in Europe. Shiels was furious.
His post match diatribe wasn’t the rant of a sore loser, this is a man with serious concerns for player welfare. The trek coming so soon after their trip to Belarus for a Europa League qualifier is beyond belief in his mind. He made some valid points, the administrators of the game have shown a disappointing lack of common sense where it concerns fixtures. Not for the first time this season the senseless scheduling has severely hindered a team.
The decision to have them play so soon after their Europa League tie was branded a "disgrace" by Shiels, it’s hard to argue with that assessment. Four days after their away European tie in Minsk, they were made board a bus and travel 500km, a 6 hour trip from Derry to Cork.
Shiels shared his anger at the scheduling of the fixture with RTÉ: “It was cruelty to my players,” he said after the 5-0 drubbing.
“We've played on Thursday. We've traveled all the way home and then all the way to Cork. We haven't had one training session and they've had five days preparation for this.
“It's bang out of order. Why do they play this match now? The longest journey in the league is Cork to Derry or Derry to Cork and they have this fixture the same week as the two teams are playing in Europe. They're playing Tuesday, we're playing Thursday.
“We're just back from the trip, it's a disgrace what they've done, making us play this game here on the Monday after us travelling all the way down (to Minsk) and then we've to travel six and a half hours down to Cork after it all.
“The boys are not fit. They're on their knees. It was pure fitness that won that match. It's cruelty, absolute cruelty.”
Sports science advances have shown that recovery is as vital a part of preparation as actually doing training on the field, the fact Derry had little to none before the boarded a bus bound for Cork no doubt contributed to their hammering at the hands of the champions.
The issues caused by the inflexible fixture schedule are not confined to the pitch, Sligo Rovers flagged the possibility that they could find themselves in an unenviable financial position in the coming weeks. The club have to find the funds the pay players and staff for the next 11 weeks, despite not having a single game at home in that period.
They were measured in their response to the issue, but still found the FAI and Fran Gavin’s competitions department uncooperative and apparently unsympathetic to their plight:
“Sligo Rovers have conveyed our disappointment to the FAI and the long period between home league games which has been added to now.
“These concerns will be reiterated and that it is not just clubs in Europe that need to be given priority in order to be successful. Clubs in our position simply cannot function with such logic.
“Recent events in the league have not been welcomed by anybody. We have sympathies for such situations and regret it is the focus of attention on Irish football now.
“As one of the few clubs in the Premier Division reliant on community funding, the support of the Sligo public and beyond maintains our club.
“In future we would like actions to support clubs like ours facing predicaments and 11-week fixture gaps can be avoided.”
The administrators of our game have shown a penchant for buck passing recently, last week Fran Gavin was a guest on Off The Ball and on more than a few occasions he distanced himself from the basket case that is Bray Wanderers.
Gavin seemed convinced that this has nothing to do with him. He spent the best part of 10 minutes trying to remove himself from the situation, the FAI appointed independent licensing committee was, on a number of occasion referred to as independent: “I’m not involved in the licensing process and my department are not involved we’re separate from it.”
Yet when the club finally ponied up the dough, in the first sentence of the statement announcing this fact they noted that the situation was resolved after working closely with the FAI, that was less than week after one of the FAI’s highest ranking officials attempted to wash his hands of the sorry story.
There is a practical fix to the issues surrounding the fixture list, the administrators of the competition though have shown no appetite to address the situation despite repeated calls from a number of clubs. The issues surrounding the scheduling of fixtures does not just effect teams playing in Europe, Bohs played 15 games in 9 weeks at the start of the season, at one stage they had a run of 5 games in 12 days. The association needs to reevaluate their priorities because the clubs, the players and the supports deserve more than an administration that is too slow to fight fires and too quick to claim credit.