I am most certainly not a fan of Michael Caine. Indeed, the only time he puts a smile on my face is when he’s not even on the television, my enjoyment instead coming from the impressionists who delight in mimicking his famous catchphrase, something it seems quite appropriate for me to use today.
That’s because Joe Cunningham was the first ever winner of an Ulster GAA Writers Award, scooping the inaugural monthly award in May of 1988! Not a lot of people know that – but you can appreciate it better by looking at the accompanying picture, with the guy pictured at the top of this page presenting it to Joey in the presence of his wife at the annual awards function.
Joey, of course, played with considerable distinction for quite a few years in the celebrated colours of both Crossmaglen Rangers and the Armagh county team.
And he was, as well, a significant figure on the soccer pitches in the red of Portadown, scoring many goals and winning his share of awards – and proving wrong those misguided folk who feel it’s not possible for a player to split his time and demonstrate his skills at the highest level in both codes.
I’m pleased to say that I interviewed the likeable Joey on countless times for television, radio and newspapers and never once did we discuss the problem of racial taunting. It happened alright and it was every bit as sickening and absolutely wrong as it is today, but those were times when political correctness hadn’t gone completely over the top and, consequently, guys didn’t make a big deal of such issues.
Part of the reason for not making a big fuss was that the consequent publicity would only have exacerbated the problem and nobody wanted that. Times have changed, however, and such matters make front pages and headline stories on the airwaves as well.
His father is past his playing sell-by date years ago but, when Joey’s son Aaron complained that he was the victim of racial abuse a couple of months ago, the media were quick to quiz Joey about his experience and he was, as always, willing to oblige by telling them of his anger and relate tales of his own experience back in the 1980s and early 90s, both in soccer and GAA.
And Joey was back in the news again last week, this time expressing his justifiable anger at revelations that appeals from two Kilcoo players had reportedly been successful, one having his six months ban reduced to four months and the other having his four months suspension scrapped altogether.
If that’s true, and at the time of writing it has not been confirmed, Joey is quite entitled to be very upset. To say the very least, it would suggest that the Ulster Council have not handled the situation very well at all.
Don’t forget that Ulster President was out of the blocks like Usain Bolt in uttering strong condemnation and stressing that the provincial body he leads would not be found wanting when it deals with those they deem guilty of any such offence.
Indeed, even the original punishments could be construed as lacking severity, given that players who are banned from playing over the winter months are basically thus very often prevented from playing in unimportant matches that are not taking place anyway!
“I’m definitely not happy with this verdict” Joey said on the radio last week. “I would like to ask the question why the six months was rounded down to four months. For them to round it down to four makes a mockery of this issue that they are trying to sort out.
“This verdict is really, really disappointing from my point of view. The Ulster Council made all the right noises and said all the right things after this happened so what I’m hearing at the moment is very disappointing.”
Aaron told the referee during the Ulster Club Final that he was being racially abused and apparently made a beeline to the press box afterwards to highlight his complaint.
Following Cunningham junior’s allegations, Ulster president Aogan O Fearghaill was quick to announce that anyone found guilty of racism would be dealt with “as severely as possible”.
“We can make no comment on this issue at this time” said a spokesperson last week. “We can’t confirm that the ban has been reduced or rescinded because the process is ongoing.”
The charges of bringing the sport into disrepute arising from the alleged Club Final incidents are open to second appeals, so it might be wrong to adjudicate too early and I don’t want to do that.
But Joey I am convinced Joey was justified in responding to the newspaper report and that’s all he has done so far. But this matter has not been put to bed just yet.