Football: Friendly cancelled after Omagh bomb

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THE NORTHERN Ireland manager, Lawrie McMenemy, explained yesterday that football was the last thing on his players' minds after the bomb at Omagh on Saturday.

McMenemy is behind the Irish Football Association's decision to cancel tomorrow's friendly against Malta at Windsor Park in the light of the tragedy. He has been as stunned as everyone else by the horrific pictures emerging from the devastated County Tyrone market town.

"My stance normally is that football brings people together to forget their problems, but this is so monumental that there is no normality about anything this week," the former Southampton manager said.

"The players and the management are 100 per cent behind calling the game off and the money side does not come into it at all.

"I was at the match between Cliftonville and Portadown in Belfast on Saturday and when we heard the news in the boardroom afterwards we were all stunned.

"Then yesterday when Joe Jordan, Pat Jennings and I were watching the pictures from Omagh we thought, how can we have a friendly game of football after this?

"As each day passes the enormity of it all becomes clearer. We are all family men and it is so hard listening to those interviews with the parents who will never see their children walking in through the door again. Nothing is important after this, particularly a game of football."

McMenemy and the players have offered to visit the victims' families or the injured in hospital should anyone want them to.

The IFA cancelled the friendly and today's Under-21 match, due to take place at Castlereagh Park in Ards, after consulting Government officials and representatives from the Maltese FA.

Jim Boyce, the IFA president, said it had been an easy decision to take this step. The IFA has never called a game off before because of a tragedy during the Troubles, but Boyce explained that on this occasion it would have been wrong to go ahead.

"It was not a difficult decision to make," Boyce said. "To have people coming along to a game, where they are supposed to enjoy themselves, while some of the funerals of the victims were taking place would have been highly inappropriate.

"It's the first time we have taken such a decision and we hope it's the last. We've had enough problems in the last 29 years and surely this will bring people to their senses."

The Malta game would have been Northern Ireland's final warm-up match before their opening European Championship qualifier in Turkey on 5 September.

Robbie Fowler is considered to be "well ahead" of schedule in his fight to regain fitness, following the cruciate knee ligament injury he suffered last February. The Liverpool and England striker is expected to step up his training significantly this week.

The Georgian captain, Kakhaber Tskhadadze, is set to miss the rest of the campaign after he suffered a serious knee injury in Manchester City's defeat to Fulham last Friday.

The centre-back tore his cruciate ligament and also received cartilage damage during his side's 3-0 defeat. The Manchester City manager, Joe Royle, said: "He has little chance of playing again this season, which is a shame for the lad because he was playing his best football since coming here."

Alan Ball, the Portsmouth manager, has joined the club's growing injury list after undergoing surgery to remove damaged knee cartilage tissue in a knee.

The 52-year-old blamed the daily grind of training and the strains of a long career for the injury which flared up last week. "I had the knee done because I've split both cartilages through training and messing about," he said. "I had a good night's sleep in the hospital and woke up the next day feeling fantastic.

"The doctors have told me to take it easy for a few days but I'm not too sure about making a comeback at my age."