Connolly receives two-match suspension

 

David Connolly has been banned for two games by FIFA's Disciplinary Committee for the foul which led to his sending off in the World Cup play off against Belgium in Brussels last month.

The sentence, shorter than was generally expected, will take effect in the autumn, at the start of the qualifying programme for the next European championship.

Connolly, who had only just come on as a replacement for Mark Kennedy, was dismissed in the 83rd minute after becoming embroiled with the Belgian player, Eric De Frandre.

He was later cited for violent conduct by the Austrian referee, Gunter Benko and to that extent, can feel fortunate that he escaped with only a two-game suspension.

The normal punishment in such cases, covers three games, as his Ireland team-mate, Jason McAteer discovered when he was shown a red card for kicking a Macedonian opponent in a World Cup game in Skopje in April.

FIFA officials were obviously swayed by Connolly's exemplary record, however, and the general deportment of the Irish supporters at the game, a point which was illustrated last week in their decision to honour them with a fair play award.

There was a mixed reaction from Mick McCarthy to the news from Switzerland. "Obviously, any suspension is bad news for a manager but on the other hand, it could have been worse," he said.

"There is a big clamp down on dangerous play across the world and that is being reflected in longer bans for those players who fall foul of referees. If you look at it in that light, David may have done well to get off with just two games."

The Ireland manager is not embarrassed with front line talent but the hope is that by the time Connolly's suspension takes effect, Keith O'Neill and, possibly, Jon Goodman of Wimbledon, will be making returns to the squad.

If tradition is upheld, there will be a general amnesty for those players whose participation in the World Cup finals is threatened by suspensions carried over for dismissals in the preliminaries. Controversially, there is no such facility for those countries eliminated in the qualifying phase and in that, there is an obvious injustice.

That sense of grievance is aggravated for players like Connolly by the knowledge that the slate is wiped clean for those players who receive two yellow cards in the World Cup preliminaries and who should ordinarily, serve a suspension.

Among those who will benefit from that ruling are the Ireland central defenders, Kenny Cunningham and Ian Harte who were booked for the second time in the competition in the Brussels game. This is an encouraging reprieve for McCarthy who would otherwise have faced even more severe problems for the start of his European programme.

By that stage of course, he will expect to have Roy Keane back captaining the team after an absence of almost a year. Keane has now resumed light training with Manchester United, following a recent knee operation.

Meanwhile, there is still no definitive news about Ireland's programme in the New Year. Confirmation of the arrangements for a game against the Czech Republic at Prague in March, is expected within a matter of days but as yet, all options are still on the table for the vacant date at Lansdowne Road in April.