Specialist gardaí investigating alleged match-fixing and betting fraud timed their searches at a football grounds for when players were having a training session in order to confiscate their mobile phones for possible evidence.
Detectives suspect that at least 10 individuals outside of the club were involved in a suspected betting scam centred around alleged match-fixing and defrauding of bookies around a number of games.
Officers have not yet identified who or how many players are suspected of involvement.
The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) launched a criminal investigation two months ago after receiving a complaint from the Football Association of Ireland.
The search operation at the sports ground, in the south of the country, was timed for when the team was holding a training session.
The search warrant allowed detectives to take away any evidence, including mobile phones of players, that was relevant to their investigation.
GNECB officers are examining the mobile phones seized to see if there are any messages — text or online — in relation to the fixing of matches and trace who the contact was with.
It is understood gardaí received necessary password and PIN numbers for most devices. For those devices they didn’t get codes for, they will use software to try and bypass them.
Gardaí spoke to all the players at the grounds.
Offices are investigating claims that some of the betting was based on how many goals were going to be scored.
Sources said that while it was very difficult to prove criminal intent by the performance of players, messages on mobile phones would be key.
“If you have a message of X saying to Y ‘we are going to lose 3-2’, that would be different,” said a source.
Likewise, the source said if there were messages of someone trying to get deliberately sent off in order to assist the other team to win, that would be an indication.
Gardaí are investigating claims that those placing bets were going into certain bookies and betting on the same thing to happen in the same game.
At this stage, gardaí believe at least 10 individuals were involved in the actual betting.
“This is at a very early stage and these investigations are not easy,” said a source. “It will take a while, but not too long though.”
The chairman of the club at the grounds has complained that gardaí armed with “machine guns” were stationed at the entrance during the search operation.
Separately, on RTÉ’s Drivetime, Stuart Gilhooly, solicitor for the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland, said that if the allegations were confirmed, it would be a “very serious” matter, but urged caution about making judgements based on performances on the pitch.
The GNECB did conduct a similar criminal investigation at a club in the east of the country last year, but no prosecutions arose from it.
Meanwhile, the FAI confirmed last night it is investigating unusual betting patterns around the recent FAI Cup game between Sligo Rovers v Limerick FC.
The investigation is along similar lines to the one currently underway into the First Division fixture between Shelbourne and Limerick in April.
Both investigations were launched following the receipt of reports from Uefa to the FAI concerning unusual betting patterns around the two games.
An FAI spokesman confirmed: