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Club to lodge complaint over player's sectarian slur allegations

DARREN Graham, the 25-year-old protestant GAA player at the centre of a sectarian storm, still harbours dreams to play senior football for Fermanagh, but only if the abuse stops.

For years the gifted player, who has featured on senior hurling and under-21 sides for his county, claims to have suffered ongoing sectarian abuse about his religion.

This week he shed more light on how, as a Protestant, he became a devotee of Gaelic games and how he has now turned his back on the sport due to persistent sectarian abuse from individual players from a handful of clubs, three in particular.

Darren, whose father and two uncles were shot dead by the IRA, stormed off the pitch last Sunday after allegedly suffered more abuse, saying he will not return unless there is a full apology.

The announcement of his retirement to the Fermanagh Herald mid-week has been followed up by a torrent of media exposure about the dark sectarianism which appears to exist within the GAA.

Tomorrow his club, Lisnaskea Emmets, with whom he was playing a senior championship match last Sunday, are to lodge an official complaint concerning his treatment to the Fermanagh County Board.

The Board has its monthly meeting on Monday and it is believed the Darren Graham issue will be tabled as an emergency motion.

Last night, Mr Graham said the complaint will focus on three clubs in particular.

"It will be about what has been happening up the ranks and at senior level as well and no action has been taken," said Mr Graham.

Meeting

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The player has also welcomed the prospect of a meeting with GAA president Nickey Brennan. "That has made me more contented, definitely. At the end of the day, Croke Park know about it," said Mr Graham.

Yesterday Mr Brennan and Tom Daly, President of the Ulster GAA Council, issued a statement saying sectarian conduct is unacceptable and that the "GAA reaffirms that it is a non-sectarian and non-party political organisation".

"Any allegations made will be vigorously investigated and disciplinary action shall be taken where deemed appropriate," said the statement.

Mr Graham has defended himself at having left the complaint until now, considering claims that the sectarian abuse has been going on against him for the past six or seven years, when he turned senior.

"What were they going to do about it? They would have put in this report, saying this or that, but all the County Board has to do is deny it because the referee didn't have it down in his report. Basically, it would be swept under the carpet."

Referees

Referees have also failed to protect him, he says.

"To tell you the truth, I don't have a clue why it's only certain clubs that gave me abuse. I got many yellow cards for shouting back to the referee because players were directing abuse at me and, maybe when the next ball came in, I would then do something stupid," he said.

His involvement with Gaelic sports began when he was around 12 years old and attending a local Protestant primary school.

"It started off from a couple of boys I played with in and around the park where I live that I grew up with. They were playing Gaelic football at the time and also hurling as well although I didn't take it up for a couple of weeks.

"My mother (his father, a UDR man, was shot dead by the IRA in 1981) had no objections whatsoever. The headmaster in the (Protestant) Moat Primary School would give me time off to play for St Ronan's, so I was playing Gaelic football, hurling and soccer."

The real abuse started around the time he reached the senior ranks.

There are two senior hurling clubs in Fermanagh, Lisnaskea and Lisbellaw, and apart from some initial resistance from some players, that all evaporated when he was picked for the county at senior level, at the age of 17 or 18.

"The abuse came from certain players within certain clubs and from their supporters.

"I had my jaw broken in one match, for which a player was red carded," he said.

"I waited 'til the end of the game to leave the dug-out and, when I walked off, one of my own players who was walking behind me kept telling me to walk on, the abuse was that bad I was ready to climb over the wire to get at them."

Some of the abuse, he explained, was linked to his late father.

However, he still has one final aim for his GAA career.

"When they brought me into the Fermanagh senior hurling panel when I was 17 or 18, when I was still playing minors, I was delighted," he said.

"But, I still have one dream left: to play senior Gaelic football for the county. I am prevented from doing that at the moment, but it's still viable. If I was picked, I would definitely go for it but, definitely, I want something done about the abuse."


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