‘Absolute joke’: Reds legend calls for Irankunda protection after Original Rivalry send-off

'It was an absolute joke' - Bruce Djite on Irankunda red card

Adelaide United great Bruce Djite has launched a staunch defence of Reds talent Nestory Irankunda after the teenager’s incensed reaction to a referee no-call earned him his marching orders in a 1-1 draw with Melbourne Victory.

The Original Rivalry bout at AAMI Park was an explosive encounter between the two old foes, with both Roderick Miranda and Irankunda sent to the stands in a fiery end to the deadlocked affair.

Irankunda’s dismissal came via two late yellow cards; the first came after his reaction to a challenge from Ryan Teague in the middle of the park, before the forward vented his frustration at the decision not to award a free-kick after a tussle with Chris Ikonomidis in the sixth minute of extra time.

Referee Alex King reached straight for his pocket to brandish a second yellow, and then the red, toward Irankunda who was helped by Reds staff off the pitch and down the tunnel.

MATCH REPORT: Deadlock in Original Rivalry as Victory and Adelaide both see red
IRANKUNDA SEND-OFF: Watch the incident here

The incident between Irankunda and Ikonomidis ocurred right in front of the linesman on the right side of Adelaide’s attack. Post-game, both Djite and Melbourne Victory legend Archie Thompson were critical of the officiating team’s decision not to award a free kick to Irankunda before the 17-year-old’s reaction that earned him a week off from Isuzu UTE A-League duty.

“To be frank, I think it was an absolute joke,” Djite said on Paramount+.

“Of course the player is going to be frustrated. Do we want referees not protecting the hottest, brightest prospects in Australian football, or do we want to kick them out of the league, and force them overseas?

“Here’s a player that’s going to go on to fantastic things, there’s no protection for him. The first yellow card was ridiculous, he’s the one who got pulled and he got a yellow card. He got fouled three times here, and he got the second yellow card.

“I’m happy I can say this now because I’m not working for Adelaide United: both of those referees have got to get their act together and start protecting the young, exciting players.

“No one is coming here to watch players get fouled out of a game. People want to come and watch exciting players, attacking football, and they need to be protected. That was ridiculous for me.”


Thompson agreed with Djite’s summation of the incident.

“I can’t add anything, I think you said it perfectly,” Thompson said.

“If anything, the linesman should have been helping King there, because the players were right in front of him. If you can’t see the guy is getting pushed and dragged to the ground right in front of you, it’s ridiculous. To give a red card like that, he didn’t need to at all.”

Despite his thoughts on the dismissal itself, Djite says Irankunda must learn to control himself better in moments of frustration that test his composure.

“The caveat (is): you’ve got to learn how to channel your emotions as well. It’s not always going to go for you,” Djite said.

“Referees make mistakes as well. (Irankunda) has got to learn not to lash out – but these refs have got to start protecting these attacking players.”


Veart admitted that Irankunda has to learn to control his frustration more effectively, but also needed better protection.

“Nestory has to be better, we’ve been working with him on his frustration and learning to control it better,” Veart said.

But it doesn’t help when the first yellow card comes when a Melbourne Victory player is grabbing him but Nestory gets the yellow card.

“The second one is a clear foul that wasn’t given – I asked Alex (King) why and he said he’d told Nestory that he needs to be stronger.

“This is a young Australian player who we hope will have a big career and referees keep telling us they’ll protect good players but I didn’t see any protection of Nestory.”

Victory coach Tony Popovic appeared to step in and try to calm Irankunda as he left the pitch, and said he understood the young star’s emotions.

“I’ve been there as a young player and you feel like the world has ended (with a red card),” Popovic said.

“In that moment it’s a split-second decision and I didn’t want him to do something he might regret. I was just trying to calm him down before he went off.”