Father of racially abused Crossmaglen player will not attend Ulster club tie against Kilcoo
’I definitely won’t go. I couldn’t look at them. That’s the truth.’ - Joey Cunningham
Crossmaglen’s Aaron Cunningham in action during the controversial clash against Down champions Kilcoo last year. Photograph: Andrew Paton/Pressey/Inpho
The father of the Crossmaglen Rangers player who was racially abused during last December’s Ulster club final against Kilcoo has said he won’t be attending the two clubs’ latest encounter this coming Sunday on a point of principle.
While both clubs have stated their desire to let the issue lie, Cunningham’s father, Joey, has stated he doesn’t feel the punishment was appropriate. A hearings committee imposed a four-month suspension on Branagan, reduced from an original proposal of six months.
“I won’t go to the game,” says Cunningham who, as an Irish League soccer player for Portadown in the 1980s, found himself on the receiving end of racial abuse several times.
“Definitely not. Just out of principle. I know that if somebody said something to my son again, I know what would happen. I definitely won’t go. I couldn’t look at them. That’s the truth.
“Speaking to people in their club, they promised to do this, that and the other and they went and did the opposite. I did the right thing by them – I could have torn that club to bits if I had wanted to.
“But I didn’t want to do that because there’s an awful lot of good people there in that club and they wouldn’t have deserved it. I know some of them very, very well. And, to be honest, they let me down and they let my son down.”
The issue first came to light in the immediate aftermath of the Ulster final when Aaron Cunningham told reporters what he had experienced.
“During the game I got a bit of racial abuse from Kilcoo,” Cunningham said. “You go out to play football in a good, sporting manner and hard-hitting and that. When race comes into it, I think it’s disgusting.
“I don’t want to let it overshadow what has been a good game and a tenth Ulster title for us but I feel it has to be highlighted, because what was said has no place on a football pitch. I don’t want to repeat it but the N-word was used.”
Ten months on, the two clubs have been drawn together again in the Ulster championship having retained their respective Armagh and Down county titles. But although Joey Cunningham is keen to stress that he’s happy to let bygones be bygones, the sour taste left by the whole affair will keep him away from the match in Newry on Sunday.
“We didn’t get satisfaction but it is what it is. The GAA dealt with it the best way they could and there’s nothing more to be said. It’s done and dusted, you know? That’s the way it is. I don’t dwell on it and I can’t think about it because you just have to move on. They just showed themselves for what they are and people can make their own minds up.
“I choose to let the GAA deal with it. I just wanted them to sort it out. But as far as I’m concerned, that’s life. What do you do? You live and you learn. I’m not going to go through my whole life dwelling on it or thinking about it. I’m honestly not. Aaron turned the other cheek. Cross won the match and that’s the most important thing.
“But at the end of the day, I can choose to be somewhere or not to be somewhere. I’m choosing not to be there because of the people involved. I really don’t have any love for them. And I don’t want it to turn into a circus either.”