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GAA must act swiftly after racial tirade directed at Crossmaglen's Aaron Cunningham

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Aaron Cunningham in action for Crossmaglen
Rangers during last season's All-Ireland club football final against Garrycastle.
There comes a time in every sport when someone needs to shout stop before things get out of hand.
Now is that time for the GAA, and they need only look across the Irish Sea to see why.

One of the burning topics in English Premier League soccer these days is the cancer that is racism.
Not a weekend goes by now in the world’s biggest league -- their claim by the way -- without a racism row of some kind or other.

The racist taunts aimed at the Liverpool striker Luis Suarez -- after his N word row with Patrice Evra of Manchester United last season -- are a weekly reminder of the curse.

Anton Ferdinand’s disagreement with John Terry is never far away from the front or the back pages of England’s biggest newspapers.

And some black players in England have even campaigned against the sport’s anti-racism campaign every professional signs up to such is their dissatisfaction with the current situation.

Racism, probably as much due to population demographics as anything, has never really been an issue for the GAA, although it has existed.

Jason Sherlock told us the other day that he came across it in his days as one of the country’s top Gaelic footballers and soccer players.

The Wexford player Lee Chin has claimed of late that his oriental background has been “remarked” upon by some opponents in recent games.

But all that pales into almost insignificance next to the abuse handed out to the Crossmaglen player Aaron Cunningham during the Ulster club football final last Sunday.

Crossmaglen, as is their habit, won another provincial title at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh, but other events on the field that day have left a very sour taste in the mouth that will linger for a long time to come.

Aaron’s father Joey Cunningham made history as one of the first black players to play Gaelic football.
A noted soccer player who played as a professional with Portadown, Joey also played at senior inter-county level for Armagh in the 1980s and ‘90s.

Only for his soccer interests, it is fair to suggest that Joey Cunningham could have become an Armagh legend.

He did do his county proud and his son Aaron, a full forward of some note, is following in his footsteps with the sort of performances for Crossmaglen that should make headlines in their own right.

Aaron did make headlines in Monday’s morning papers and on Sunday’s websites, but for all the wrong reasons.

In the course of his contribution to Crossmaglen’s latest Ulster title win last Sunday, Aaron Cunningham was racially abused.

He says two opponents used the color of his skin as an excuse to verbally abuse him. One even used the N word, the word that doesn’t deserve to be repeated.

Everyone connected with the story – from both clubs and the GAA hierarchy – has rightly condemned the way Aaron Cunningham was treated in Armagh last Sunday.

Kilcoo say they will support whatever action the GAA takes, and the association’s Ulster Council has promised to issue strong and decisive punishments against those responsible.

They have to. The culprits have to be identified, named and shamed and banned from the GAA for life. That is exactly the punishment their crime deserves.

The GAA have to take action now, and they have to be seen to take action.

If they don’t the problem will become epidemic and racism in the GAA will be as rampant and as regular as it is currently in English football. That’s the last thing they want.

(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)

Good for Graeme!
NIKE-bound Rory McIlroy was this week named as player of the year on the U.S. PGA Tour, which was no surprise.

The world number one can do no wrong at present and is already on course to dominate the world game again in 2013.

It’s not all about Rory in the Irish golf world right now, however.

Any day now the golf writers of Ireland will sit down to decide on their own player of the year for 2012 and Rory will win.

There’s no doubt on that score ahead of the January banquet in Dublin.

But Graeme McDowell might get a few votes after his victory in California at the end of a season that owed him a win.

The Ryder Cup was the highlight of a season that offered so much but delivered so little until G-Mac’s final event of the year on Sunday.

His win and the million dollar check that went with it put a very nice gloss on 2012 as far as the man from Portrush is concerned.

But McDowell did more than just win the Tiger Woods-hosted tournament last weekend – he also put a heckler in his place.

Sure, Graeme might get in trouble with the powers-that-be for his gesture and swear word aimed at the fan who shouted “mashed potato” after his approach shot on the 16th green.

But somebody needs to teach these fans to shut up and treat the greatest game on earth with the respect it deserves.

So Graeme McDowell may have done more than win a tournament in California last Sunday. He may well have stood up for the virtues of golf.

And he may just get my vote for golfer of the year as a result!

Sideline Views
SOCCER: Celtic’s Champions League future will be known by the time you read this, with Wednesday’s home clash with Spartak Moscow to decide whether or not they remain in the competition. Europe has been good for the Bhoys on the whole this season and the Parkhead win over Barcelona will live long in the memory.

But their domestic form is suffering as a result. Just a fortnight ago they lost to Inverness and on Saturday they could only draw with Arbroath in the Cup. Neil Lennon, who has argued with fans at league games, says he isn’t worried by these results but he does need to remind his players not to take their eye off the ball away from Europe. Scottish football is their bread and butter after all.

RUGBY: All good things come to an end, but the news of Brian O’Driscoll’s imminent retirement still jarred this week. Dricco was in London as Irish captain for the draw for the 2015 World Cup finals when his team will again face France and Italy in the game’s biggest tournament. With the greatest player of his generation set to 36 by the time the next World Cup comes around, Dricco admitted that he is unlikely to play for Ireland in 2015.  That has to be a worry for rugby fans.

GAA: Spare a thought for the former Wexford manager Jason Ryan who finally made it back to club football recently after four years absence due to his management job. Ryan finally returned to action with the De La Salle club in his native Waterford and ruptured his cruciate ligament in his first training session. Now, as he recovers from knee surgery, Ryan has all but admitted to The Irish Times that his comeback is all but over.

CYCLING: Fascinating election coming up in world cycling’s corridors of power when Tour de France winner Greg LeMond runs for president of the international union against the current incumbent, Irishman Pat McQuaid. LeMond has spoken out against the UCI handling of the Lance Armstrong case and wants to change his sport forever. Winning the 2013 election will definitely help.

BOXING: Tyson Fury is a step closer to a world title shot against Vitali Klitschko next year after winning his WBC eliminator in Belfast against American Kevin Johnson on Saturday night. Fury may or not win the world belt, but he definitely has the best name in boxing.

SOCCER: Say a prayer for the Dutch linesman beaten to death by three players on an opposing team at the weekend – in a youth league game!

HERO OF THE WEEK
AARON Cunningham had to be restrained by teammates when he was racially abused during Crossmaglen’s win over Kilcoo in the Ulster club final on Sunday. Thankfully he didn’t hold back when it came to talking about his horrible experience and the reality of racism on the GAA field. Action needs to be taken and Aaron needs to be congratulated for speaking out.

IDIOT OF THE WEEK
PREMIER League footballer Liam Ridgewell earns $30,000-plus a week and can well afford to wipe his bottom with £20 notes – as he did in a series of photos which appeared in The Sun newspaper this week. Ridgewell has claimed it was all a big joke intended for private consumption and has apologized for his actions, but West Brom fans are still angry with their star player. Clearly his bathroom actions stink.


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