ANOTHER routine day at the office for Crossmaglen has been overshadowed by a racism storm after one of their players alleged that he was abused during yesterday's Ulster club SFC final victory at the Armagh Athletic Grounds.
Aaron Cunningham - whose father Joey was a well-known Armagh player in the 1980s and one of the first black footballers to play in Croke Park - has provided compelling testimony that he was targetted during Crossmaglen's 3-9 to 1-9 victory over Down challengers Kilcoo.
The Ulster Council reacted swiftly to the controversy, promising an investigation while stressing in a statement that the GAA is an anti-racist organisation by rule and "will not tolerate in the strongest and most emphatic terms racist abuse of any type."
Kilcoo, for their part, have also released a statement condemning abuse "from whatever quarter" and undertaking to co-operate fully with any Ulster Council investigation.
Cunningham claimed that he was racially abused by two Kilcoo opponents as the defending All-Ireland champions claimed an incredible tenth Ulster title since 1996.
"You go out to play football in a good sporting manner, hard-hitting and that, but when race comes into it, I think it's disgusting, to be honest," said the Cross forward. "I don't want to let it overshadow what has been a good game and a 10th title for us, three-in-a-row and number five for myself. But I feel it has to be said, because what was said has no place on a football pitch.
"I don't actually want to repeat it but the N-word was used and the word Paki was used too. Looking at me, it's a bit ignorant on his behalf for calling me a Paki," he added. "I addressed the linesman, who was standing no more than 10 yards away. I can't say if he heard it or not. He said he didn't. I told him what was said. I just felt it was absolutely disgusting."
He also revealed that he ran after one of the players involved and challenged him about his remarks. According to Cunningham, "he shrugged it off and said: 'Well, I had to do something, youse were playing so good'."
The 24-year-old was previously subjected to racial abuse at underage level. "In underage football, when boys were younger, you would have passed it off. You would have said, 'Well, they're young, and I'm young and it's stupid'. But not at this level, I have never been subject to anything at senior level," he revealed. "I'm sure you could talk to a handful of boys and they've all had some sort of racist abuse. And as I say, it happened out there and it's absolutely disgusting. But I don't want to let it dampen what has been a great day."
Kilcoo later issued a statement to say it was "an all-inclusive club which prides itself in appealing to all sections of our community, and is shocked and saddened to hear of any allegations of racial abuse following the Ulster club final."
On the field, the Down champions battled bravely but in vain to recover from a disastrous start which saw them leak two goals inside four minutes (an Oisín McConville penalty followed almost immediately by an Aaron Kernan strike) and then trail by 2-6 to 0-1 after 18 minutes.
Crossmaglen subsequently ran into scoreboard and disciplinary trouble, losing Michael McNamee to a 46th minute straight red card and Jamie Clarke to a second yellow late on, but substitute Kyle Brennan's sealed a six-point victory with their third goal on the hour.
In Munster, meanwhile, Dr Crokes of Killarney also retained their provincial SFC crown and in even more straight-forward manner. Brian Looney kicked seven points, six from play, as the Kerrymen outclassed Castlehaven 0-19 to 0-12 at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.