The Irish Premier League will play out the final chapter in what has been a fascinating title race next Saturday, with Glentoran and Linfield maintaining hopes of claiming the top spot ahead of the final round of fixtures. Intriguingly, the Championship also appears destined to go to the wire, with a Suffolk Road encounter likely to determine whether or not Donegal Celtic or Portadown claim the automatic promotion spot and provide some clarity regarding whether or not a play-off fixture will need to take place.
However, the news that local bookmakers were reporting ‘unusual’ betting patterns ahead of this week’s games has caused a stir. A spokesperson for Toals claimed on Friday that there had been “very, very unusual” betting on a treble of victories for three teams in the Section B grouping of the Premier League, which had seen the odds slash from 16/1 to 4/1. All three teams proceeded to win their respective match on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Paddy Power bookmakers announced that they were suspending bets on matches not involving Linfield and Glentoran, though, importantly, a spokesperson added that this was not unusual and was common practice for fixtures in the lower divisions across the water at this stage of the season.
Of course, match-rigging is very difficult to prove, and the allegation can often be unfairly directed at individuals/ teams across any and every sport. In this case, the article concerned points out that end of season fixtures are notoriously difficult to predict for a variety of reasons: club managers can use the end of season fixtures to rest regular players and trial younger members of the squad, whilst some players may have their eye on Cup Finals and simply lack the motivation or desire to put their body on the line in a ‘meaningless’ game (as I’m reliably informed was clearly the case in the dreary north Belfast derby at Solitude yesterday.)
However, the IFA President, Raymond Kennedy, would appear to believe that this may not be a false alarm. Interviewed ahead of the fixtures, he claimed that the betting patterns suggest “there must be something going on” before suggesting that the Association could “take the line that teams can be told before kick-off tomorrow that we are aware of the situation and just to be watching their step.”