Sunday 25 August 2019

Ex-GAA coach fighting illness hits out as club faces ban for fundraiser

'Disgrace' - team may be sanctioned over 'unauthorised' match in his honour

Fighting illness: Paul Dillon, his baby daughter Daisy, wife Emma, daughter Lilly and daughter Heidi at her communion
Fighting illness: Paul Dillon, his baby daughter Daisy, wife Emma, daughter Lilly and daughter Heidi at her communion

Allison Bray

A former GAA football player and coach who is battling motor neurone disease has hit out at the controversy over the possible eight-week suspension of his local club for 'hosting' a fundraising football match in his honour.

Father-of-three Paul Dillon (45), from Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal, said he was taken aback that his local GAA club, Naomh Colmcille, could now face possible sanctions for allowing a charity match to raise funds to help him manage his illness go ahead.

"I think it's a disgrace. I'm behind the club and it isn't their fault," he told the Irish Independent.

The local county board issued a statement yesterday stating the club was investigated for allegedly hosting an unauthorised match, which is against GAA rules.

But the club has not been suspended, pending the outcome of an appeal.

"In clarification, the club is not currently suspended, but the findings of an investigation has recommended suspension for eight weeks - this is the minimum period of suspension for holding an unauthorised tournament," the board's statement read.

It said the club has the right to "prove these findings incorrect or misapplied" and it would not comment further.

Some players from the club, where Mr Dillon was a popular under-age coach, took part in a seven-a-side match held on a former soccer pitch that the club now uses for training.

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The once-off event was to help raise funds to retrofit Mr Dillon's home to make it accessible by wheelchair, which he now requires for mobility.

"The whole community played. The Gaelic club had nothing to do with it," he said.

"A few of them [club members] played. But it was just a day's craic to raise a bit of money," he said of €5,200 that was raised for him on the day.

The match was just part of a number of local fundraising events organised by local councillor Paul Canning that raised €85,000 to build an extension to Mr Dillon's home after he received the devastating diagnosis last Christmas.

"We used half the pitch and had a game. It was only a bit of carry-on, a few teams made up of locals coming together for a neighbour. The game had nothing to do with the GAA club," he told the sports website 'Pundit Arena'.

Mr Canning could not be reached for additional comment yesterday.

However, Mr Dillon said the ensuing furore was ridiculous and "overshadows" the good intentions of the community.

"I think it's so sad. They were just trying to raise a few pounds," he said.

But he said he was overwhelmed by the generosity of people from the village of 1,500, who came together to support him and his family.

"It's unbelievable for the size of our village. I'm just grateful, I couldn't thank them enough," he said.

Meanwhile, his friend and former colleague John Tinney said locals were outraged over the controversy.

"It was only a community coming together to support one of their own," he said. "I'm hoping the board will have a bit of cop on."

He worked with Mr Dillon for 25 years as a butcher at the local Eurospar shop and described his friend as a very popular local man.

"He's just one of them that if you're in bad form will lift you up," he said.

Irish Independent

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