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Joey Cunningham: 'There is a line you don't cross'

The father of a Crossmaglen Rangers player who was allegedly racially abused believes the GAA have not properly grasped the issue in the sport.

Crossmaglen Rangers player Aaron Cunningham.
Crossmaglen Rangers player Aaron Cunningham.
Image: INPHO/Presseye/Andrew Paton

THE FATHER OF the Crossmaglen Rangers player who was allegedly racially abused in last year’s Ulster club final believes the GAA have not properly grasped the issue of racism in the sport.

Joey Cunningham played GAA for Crossmaglen and Armagh and Irish League football for Portadown during the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

His son Aaron, who will be in action for Crossmaglen Rangers in the All-Ireland club SFC semi-final against St Brigid’s on February 16th, made the allegation in the wake of Crossmaglen’s win over Down club Kilcoo last December.

The Ulster Council handed out sanctions in the aftermath of the event but it was recently reported that a Kilcoo player involved has had his ban rescinded.

Cunningham, speaking on Newstalk’s Off The Ball programme last night, also described his ‘dismay’ at the rescinding of those bans.

“Here’s how serious it could have got, if I was in the stand and I heard a supporter shouting something at my son, I’ll tell you one thing, it would have got very serious.

“Then the GAA and everyone else would have something to talk about. That’s something for them to digest. What am I to do or anybody else, say Lee Chin’s parents. Are they to sit and listen to someone racially abuse their children and accept it and not react?

“Everybody can lose the head, and by and large people are sensible, but there are some things that cross the line. There is a line you don’t cross and I don’t think they’ve realised how something like this could escalate into something very dangerous.

“I was totally dismayed by how it was reduced. I have to ask the question why was it reduced from six months to four. This guy either said it or he didn’t. If he didn’t say it, I haven’t a problem with him getting off and not getting any suspension. There is no middle ground here. But this was as clear a case as you’re going to get.”

Cunningham revealed that he never suffered racial abuse from opposition players when playing Gaelic football himself but was ‘upset’ at the situation his son was embroiled in.

“I never had it from any player playing Gaelic football. There were different supporters from different county teams that you would have got a bit of it. You just got on with things. When I was playing I was thinking that I’d do my talking on the pitch, I’m going to put this ball over the bar or I’m going to skin him.

“I was so upset I can’t tell you (with Aaron’s situation). You’re talking 20-25 years later and you’re thinking times have moved on.

“I could honestly say to you that everyone knew something had been said, there was no doubt. He’s a good lad and he’s not brazen. The reaction of their player would tell you something was said because he backed off. He didn’t want to get involved.

“After the match I went down to Aaron and said ‘Look it, tell me what was said’. He wouldn’t tell me. He got his mum and told his mum but he wouldn’t tell me because he knew that I would lose the rag. It shows the maturity of him.”

Listen to the interview here

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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