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Racism storm puts GAA in a quandary

THE opening months of 2012 have been troublesome for the GAA on the disciplinary front, but, having calmed those troubled waters to some degree, Croke Park never thought they would now be dealing with serious allegations of racism.

That they should come from a county board adds to the gravity of the accusation and presents a new and extremely difficult challenge for those charged with investigating Armagh's claim that their players had been subjected to "racist and personal abuse."

Armagh didn't identify the alleged perpetrators, but their anger is known to have been exacerbated by the visit to Portlaoise for last Sunday's Allianz Football League game with Laois.

It was a miserable occasion for Armagh, who not only lost the game -- a result that dropped them to the bottom of the Division 1 table -- but also had Ciaran McKeever dismissed before the start of the second half, while assistant manager Paul Grimley faces a 12-week ban, arising from a post-match confrontation with the referee.

Laois insist that they have no evidence of any unsavoury comments directed at Armagh players last Sunday. Ironically, Laois are managed by Armagh man Justin McNulty.

And, while Armagh haven't publicly named Laois, the timing of their statement has left no doubt that they were referring -- in part at least -- to events in O'Moore Park.

It's not the first time that Laois have come under the spotlight arising from comments made in a game with Armagh.

Joe Kernan revealed in his autobiography last year that one of the few times he lost his temper on the sideline during his six-season stint as Armagh manager was during a league game in Portlaoise.

"A bit of a scuffle broke out near the sideline in front of the stand, with players and officials becoming involved. It wasn't anything too serious and ended fairly quickly, but not before one Laois man had a right go at us.

"He squared up to our selector John Rafferty and called us 'Orange bastards'. On a league table of stupidity, that would take some beating, and while I should have laughed at the pathetic eejit, I was infuriated.

"The sheer ignorance of the man. I felt like laying him out with a punch, but somehow managed to restrain myself.

"In fairness to Liam Kearns, who was Laois manager at the time, he came to me afterwards and apologised. He didn't have to because he hadn't done or said anything wrong and couldn't be blamed for someone else's stupidity.

"It was an isolated incident, but it showed that even in a new century there are still people who have no real grasp of the relationship between North and South," wrote Kernan.

During the Troubles, players from the south regularly told stories of being dubbed 'Fenians' (often more colourfully put) during games by a minority of their counterparts from the Six Counties.

However, it was thought the name-calling days were largely over, but Armagh's decision to issue a lengthy statement on their concerns suggests that it's back on the agenda.

They cite the chanting of 'God Save the Queen' and the taunting of 'British bastard' as severe provocation and claim it should be regarded as an offence which brings the GAA into disrepute.

The latest development leaves Croke Park in an awkward position as it would be hard to prove that players are being subjected to what Armagh described as a partitionist mindset.

And if Croke Park issues a general warning about future behaviour by players or officials, it still leaves the question of how to deal with chants from the terraces.

Irish Independent

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