Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Kilcoo and Crossmaglen Rangers managers focused on the football as tension mounts ahead of replay

In the spotlight: Aaron Cunningham was subjected to taunts during last Sunday's Ulster quarter final
In the spotlight: Aaron Cunningham was subjected to taunts during last Sunday's Ulster quarter final

In the build-up to last Sunday's Ulster club championship quarter-final, Kilcoo manager Jim McCorry refused to be drawn on the controversial incidents that marked last year's provincial decider between the sides.

On that occasion, Crossmaglen Rangers forward Aaron Cunningham claimed he had been racially abused by a Kilcoo player, while there were also allegations he had been taunted by followers of the Down club.

The Ulster Council subsequently banned one Kilcoo supporter for life and handed a four-month ban to player Aidan Branagan.

And in advance of last Sunday's game, Cunningam's father Joey stated he would not be attending the tie as he felt the punishment meted out to Kilcoo was not appropriate.

Now McCorry is adamant that the undercurrent of tension which marked the sides' meeting last Sunday should not be allowed to detract from the appeal of this Sunday's replay at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh.

"We are going to play a football match and that's all I'm interested in talking about," said McCorry, "We are very focused on winning this game. That's all that matters from our perspective."

It was at Pairc Esler last Sunday that Cunningham again found himself in the spotlight where he was seated among the Kilcoo substitutes in the stand when it is understood that taunts were hurled at him.

Stewards moved quickly to prevent any possible trouble but attention was temporarily detracted away from the action on the park as spectators craned to see what was taking place before a potentially explosive situation was nipped in the bud.

But there are fears that the rivalry between the clubs could further escalate depending on what course Sunday's game takes.

McCorry's Crossmaglen Rangers counterpart, Joe Kernan, has already reiterated his stance on 'sledging' and taunting as he prepares for a game in which Aaron Kernan, Jamie Clarke, James Morgan, Stephen Finnegan and Paul Kernan will be conspicuous by their absence, while there is still a doubt about Cunningham himself.

"If what is reported to have happened in relation to Aaron Cunningham last Sunday took place, that is despicable. It should not happen. We brought our players to Newry to play football as always and we will be trying to do the same at the Athletic Grounds. We are looking forward to it," said Kernan.

The Rangers boss launched a stinging attack on referee Barry Cassidy in the immediate aftermath of the game, pinpointing some of his decisions as "unbelievable".

It has been custom and practice in the past for a referee who takes charge of a drawn game to be invited to officiate at the replay but, on this occasion, the Ulster Council have gone for experienced Cavan official Joe McQuillan to be the man in the middle at the Athletic Grounds.

McQuillan's most recent assignment was the All Ireland final between Dublin and Mayo and this certainly underlines his stature as a whistler.

Given the physicality, intensity and cynicism that marked last Sunday's contest he will certainly have his hands full.

Ulster Council PRO John Connolly believes the game could prove a high point of the Ulster club championship series.

"We are looking at two serious teams here," stresses Connolly, "They brought 8,000 fans to Newry last Sunday and that could easily become 10,000 this weekend.

"There is a lot at stake but I think that this is an opportunity for Ulster club football to be shown in the best possible light.

"The situation was always under control at Pairc Esler last Sunday and there is a responsible attitude being taken by both teams and their respective managers towards the replay and this is very encouraging."

"Everyone wants to see a great game of football. The fact that it is the only game on the Ulster fixtures menu ensures that the whole focus will be on the Athletic Grounds."

* WHAT has become akin to a cloak and dagger mystery could finally be unravelled tonight.

A selection process in which the word 'ongoing' has become rather boringly prominent is expected to end with the identity of Fermanagh's new football boss being revealed.

Three weeks have elapsed since Brookeboro clubman Gerry Moane was interviewed for the position and since then county chairman Patsy Dolan has indicated more than once that the search has been continuing to find a successor to Peter Canavan.

But there has been no public confirmation that any other candidates have been formally interviewed for a post to which high-profile personalities such as Kevin McStay and Seamus McEnaney were initially linked.

Former Mayo player McStay guided Roscommon club St Brigid's to the All-Ireland club championship title this year while McEnaney spent six years with Monaghan and has also been involved with Meath.

Yet while Fermanagh procrastinate on what is an important appointment, and perhaps with good reason, time is marching on.

Having exited the All-Ireland football qualifiers at the hands of Cavan, Fermanagh can return to training anytime now.

The problem is that a squad has yet to be selected nor the groundwork prepared for the 2014 campaign.

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