Northern Ireland

Joey Cunningham shocked by 'racist abuse' of son in GAA game

Joey Cunningham playing for Portadown in 1990
Image caption Joey Cunningham playing for Portadown in 1990

The father of the Gaelic footballer allegedly racially abused on Sunday has said he was shocked by the incidents.

Crossmaglen player Aaron Cunningham claimed he was racially abused throughout the Ulster Club football final by two members of the Kilcoo panel and parts of the crowd.

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

He said he received racial abuse every week in the Irish League, but was shocked his son had suffered it during a GAA match.

"I'm actually more shocked now than I've probably ever been at any stage in my playing career," Mr Cunningham said.

"In the Irish League, every single week I got it, but to be honest it didn't bother me one single bit. I just played my football and I tried to answer them on the pitch and I think most times I did that.

"Life has just moved on and in Gaelic football, you just don't expect this, you really don't, because everybody knows everybody and everybody has a level of respect for each other.

"Unfortunately for the 99% of good people who support football and play football, you're always going to get that minority who just don't think."

Mr Cunningham said it was harder hearing his son suffering racist abuse, than suffering it himself.

"If it was coming from the crowd, and it was coming from the crowd, as a player you wouldn't hear those things because you were too tuned into the game," he said.

"It's really really hard to speak about as a father when you hear something like that has happened to your son. I thought I had taken enough of that in my lifetime of playing football.

"But it seems like anything goes and it's still out there, which is sad."

Mr Cunningham said he was proud that Aaron had not been provoked into a reaction on the field.

"I'm very proud that he held his head and that he didn't let himself down. He stayed on the field he didn't do anything silly which is what the other team were probably hoping for," he said.

Image caption Aaron Cunningham said he was racially abused during the game

The Ulster GAA president has said anyone found guilty of racism will be dealt with "as severely" as possible.

Joey Cunningham said it was important for the GAA to deal with the incidents.

"I had a number of people from Kilcoo come to me at the end of the match and to be honest with you they were embarrassed, they were apologising and that will tell you in itself that this did happen, it's not something that is made up," Mr Cunningham said.

"It did happen, people heard it, high-profile people who were at the ground heard it.

"The GAA will sort this out in whatever way they see fit; all I'm asking for is honesty, I would ask for this not to be swept under the carpet."

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