Aaron Cunningham, the player at the centre of racial abuse allegations following the recent Ulster club football final between Crossmaglen Rangers and Kilcoo, currently finds himself immersed in a different kind of battle.
The 23-year-old wing-forward is facing a race against the clock to get fit for Crossmaglen’s All-Ireland semi-final against St Brigid’s (Roscommon) having undergone surgery to repair a torn cartilage.
It was against Armagh Harps in the early stages of the county championship that Cunningham initially incurred the injury and since then he has played through the pain barrier to help his club retain their Orchard County crown as well as the Ulster title.
It was just two days after the controversial provincial final that Cunningham entered hospital to have his surgery and since then he has been following a rehabilitation programme.
Even though the Crossmaglen squad is on a Christmas break right now, Cunningham, a final year student at UUJ, is relentlessly pursuing his own rigid fitness programme.
“Aaron is understandably very keen to play in the All Ireland semi-final having been part of the side for the past few years,” said Rangers spokesman Tom McKay.
“What happened in the Ulster club final is over and done with, action has been taken and while I understand that the outcome of another investigation is pending, we want to move on.”
The Ulster Council has already conducted a probe into Cunningham’s allegations that he was racially abused by two Kilcoo players and one player from that club has now been suspended as has one of their supporters.
It is understood that the evidence of independent observers, including that of BBC GAA reporter Mark Sidebottom, was taken on board in arriving at the suspensions.
Cunningham’s work-rate and ability to take points from long range have benefitted the Rangers considerably this year and the player now wants to see his side complete a hat-trick of All-Ireland triumphs.
“Obviously it would be great to be part of such a history-making feat, but that is going to be very difficult to achieve,” says Cunningham.
“There are some excellent sides in the hunt as well as ourselves so we know that we will be up against it.
“Still, if we can keep our focus and maybe play to a higher level then I think we are capable of making it through to the final.”
Meanwhile, An Port Mor will be stepping up preparations next week for their All-Ireland club junior football championship semi-final against Galway and Connacht champions Ballinasloe.
The match is scheduled for January 27 and the Armagh champions aim to be at concert pith for the clash.
“We will be putting in a huge effort on the training ground. We were not expected to win the Armagh title and we were not rated against Brackville in the Ulster final so hopefully Ballinasloe will be favourites for this semi-final,” smiles skipper Shane Nugent.