They reiterated the GAA’s stance as “an anti-racist organisation by rule” and warned it would not tolerate racist abuse of any type. It remains to be seen if there is any reference to racist abuse in referee Joe McQuillan’s report.
Cunningham had to be visibly restrained by teammates after an incident shortly after half-time but no action was taken by the match officials at the time. However, the forward went on to reveal the source of his anger, after Crossmaglen claimed a 10th provincial title with the defeat of Down’s Kilcoo.
“You go out to play football in a good, sporting manner and hard-hitting and that,” he explained.
“When race or whatever comes into it, I think it’s disgusting. I don’t want to let it overshadow what has been a good game and 10th title for us, three-in-a-row and number five for myself, but I just feel that it has to be said because whatever was said has no place on a football pitch.”
Cunningham accused two individuals of subjecting him to racial abuse at two different junctures of the game at the Athletic Grounds. He addressed the linesman, Barry Cassidy, who was standing nearby after one exchange but the Derry official replied he had not heard the remarks.
“I don’t actually want to repeat it but the ‘n’ word was used and I suppose ‘Paki’ was used as well,” said Cunningham, whose father Joey faced similar taunts with Armagh and Portadown in the Irish League in his own career.
Cunningham said he was on the receiving end of remarks playing underage and shrugged them off as youthful ignorance but was taken aback yesterday having never before been subjected to racial abuse as a senior player.
This is not the first time the issue of racial abuse has impacted on the GAA this year. Wexford footballer, Lee Chin, was subjected to it last April when on club duty with Sarsfields after which two Duffry Rovers players were handed eight-week suspensions.
Chin said that such abuse on the pitch is “an ongoing issue” for him and his club have sought to tackle the matter by forwarding a motion for consideration at Congress to make racial abuse an automatic red-card offence.
In recent months GAA president, Liam O’Neill, has condemned any form of racial abuse. The Laois man also backed the bid to adopt legislation aimed at combating it and Cunningham echoed those thoughts.
“In the heat of the championship game, when these things are said to you, it does rile you. I suppose, personally, I would never, ever call anybody by their creed or their race or anything like that. I was just disgusted to hear it but it will not dampen the celebrations anyway. I just had to make it known that it was said.”
Last night Kilcoo issued a statement saying: “Kilcoo GAC is 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.
“We as a club condemn abuse from whatever quarter and shall cooperate fully with any investigation instigated by Ulster Council.”
After the game Cross manager Tony McEntee acknowledged the allegation had been made but intimated the club would not take the lead following the matter up. “If the linesman who was beside Aaron at the time isn’t able to stand up and get the referee’s attention to it, then we will certainly not be.”
Kilcoo manager Jim McCorry was not aware of the allegation but said the club would take action if necessary.