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Kilcoo race row rears its head again

By Declan Bogue

The Cunningham family remained tight-lipped after the Belfast Telegraph informed them that punishments against two Kilcoo players in the wake of the alleged racist abuse directed at Aaron Cunnningham had been reduced.

A source, however, said that Joey Cunningham, father of Crossmaglen Rangers player Aaron, was “extremely upset” on hearing that the row which had plagued Ulster GAA towards the end of last year had reared up again.

The Kilcoo duo were successful in appeals to the Ulster Council against their sentences.

Initially, Aidan Branagan and his brother Daryl were suspended following the Ulster club final last month but, following the appeals, the former had his six-month suspension reduced from six months to four while the latter had his four-month ban rescinded entirely.

Aidan Branagan’s reduced punishment means he will be available to the Down senior squad towards the end of the National League.

There is still the possibility of the ban being reduced further, if the player and his club pursue further action with the Central Appeals Committee at Croke Park.

Both players were up on a charge of bringing disrepute upon the association.

It is understood that the Kilcoo club are preparing to put forward one of their own supporters for a ban lasting what a source described as a “considerable length of time”, over an incident at the final.

They are expected to request that the Ulster Council stand over such an action.

After the game, a clearly enraged Aaron Cunningham told reporters, “During the game I got a bit of racial abuse from Kilcoo ... You go out to play football in a good, sporting manner and hard-hitting and that. When race or whatever comes into it, I think it's disgusting.”

It is expected that Central Council will move to formulate a rule dealing with racist abuse and behaviour in time for the annual Congress, which takes place in Derry during the spring.

This follows a tumultuous 2012 for the association in this regard, with two Duffry Rovers players being suspended for eight weeks back in June for their racist remarks to Wexford dual county player Lee Chin.

A similar case was heard during October in Cavan where Cootehill Celtic made a formal complaint to the county board that one of their players was the subject of a racist taunt during their Intermediate football final replay.

However, this was thrown out due to lack of evidence.

Officials from the Ulster Council are unwilling to make any comment on the case at present, as they fear it could prejudice any further appeal or due process.

Shortly after the incident, The Gaelic Players’ Association and anti-racist charity Show Racism the Red Card welcomed the investigation by the Ulster Council.

Co-ordinator for Show Racism the Red Card, Garret Mullan said, “There can be no place for racism in the GAA and no place for racism in Irish society.

“It is now clearly an issue for the GAA and programmes including rule changes and education is now needed.”

He continued: “Inter-county and top club players such as Eddie Lawlor, Lee Chin and Aaron Cunningham are role models for young people in how to respond to racism.

“We would call on all units of the GAA to support moves to make racial abuse a red card offence.

“It is up to all involved in the game including supporters, players and administrators to recognise what racism is and how to respond to it.”

Neither Crossmaglen or Kilcoo are prepared to speak on the matter publicly at present.

The south Armagh club won the Ulster club final 3-9 to 1-9, and are now preparing to face St Brigid's of Roscommon in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Joey Cunningham (left), father of Aaron, had spoken of his anger that his son should be abused in this manner in the wake of the final, recounting some of the abuse he also received during a long playing career in Gaelic football for Armagh, and in the Irish League where he told of bananas being thrown onto the pitch by rival fans while playing for Portadown.

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