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‘It happens all the time’ – Killarney’s black athletes tell of shocking racial abuse

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In Part 1 of a three-part series on racism in Irish sport, Adam Moynihan speaks to some local black athletes about the discrimination they face both on and off the pitch.

In the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, fires have raged across the Unites States and cries of injustice have been heard all around the world.

Ireland is making noise, too. Irish social media has been brimming with #BlackLivesMatter posts this past week and a march in Dublin on Monday drew upwards of 4,000 protesters, all eager to show their support for the continually oppressed African-American community.

It’s great to see such solidarity, it really is, but isn’t it curious how we can be so loud when racism happens far away - when it's an "American problem" - yet so quiet when it happens over here?

This week I spoke to some black sportsmen who call, or have called, Killarney home. If, for some reason, you want to believe that racism doesn't exist in this part of the world, please don't look away now.

HURT

Ozzy de Quadros is a black, Brazilian-born tattoo artist who moved to Killarney 18 years ago. He quickly got involved with Killarney Athletic as a coach of an underage team and as a player at senior level. For Ozzy, racism has been a factor from the very start, both in and out of sport.

“I’m here since 2002 and it happens all the time,” he explains. “And I come from South America where people always call each other names - it’s just their nature – so I didn’t grow up with this mentality that I get offended really easily.

“I came here because I was going out with the mother of my children, who is Irish and white, and sometimes we would be out walking and we would both get abused. It was mostly older people, seeing a black guy with a white girl. I’m a grown man so I don’t get traumatised by these things but when it happens to kids, it’s not good for them.”

It must hurt on some level, though?

“Oh, it does. It hurts. It’s not going to stop me living my life, but it hurts.”

Ozzy, now 43 years of age, has also experienced racism in sporting contexts during his time in Ireland. In 2012, a troubling incident during a match against another local club was made even more distressing by the fact that he was with his two young sons at the time.

“Actually, I didn’t hear anything that day,” he says. “I was beside the pitch with my two kids. I was just supporting my club like everyone else there, but the [opposition player] didn’t want to see a black man shouting for Athletic.

“One of the (Killarney Athletic) guys next to me said, ‘did you hear what he said to you?’. I said I didn’t. He said, ‘he called you a n*****’.

“Some of the Athletic players (who had also heard the slur) told the referee but the referee didn’t want to do anything. He didn’t give him a red card. The club didn’t do anything. I posted on Facebook explaining what had happened and for a while people supported me. They said, ‘oh, that’s horrible’ and so on. But they didn’t go further than that. Nobody actually came to me and said ‘look, this is what you can do’. It never happened.”

Ozzy believes that instances of racial abuse are more frequent and more aggressive now than they were when he first arrived, a claim that is supported by the Irish Network Against Racism who say that racist incidents doubled in the first quarter of this year alone. It’s a worrying trend, especially when one considers the fact that this country still doesn’t have proper laws to deal with hate crime.

“There has definitely been an increase in verbal attacks,” Ozzy says. “In 2002, you knew that racist people weren’t going to talk to you or whatever, but they weren’t violent in the way they expressed their anger towards other ethnicities. Now, this could happen three, four, five times a night in a nightclub and nobody does anything.

"I don’t know where this hate is coming from.”

AN EVERYDAY REALITY

Coincidentally another black athlete, Brian Okwute, also came to Killarney in 2002, although he was just a baby at the time. Now a 19-year-old student who studies business in IT Tralee, Okwute became the first ever black player to line out for the Killarney Legion seniors when he made his debut in the East Kerry League earlier this year.

The son of a South African mother and a Nigerian father, Brian says that racism is an everyday reality for him and his family.

“It’s something we just have to live with,” he says. “It happens often, especially on nights out. Sometimes you might hear, ‘you n*****’ out of nowhere. It’d be lads in their twenties or older. I’d say they’re drunk as well, but it’s still not acceptable.

“One time I remember I was walking down through town with my friend and this guy just goes, ‘n*****’. I was like, ‘what?!’. We were so angry, we wanted to fight him, but we just walked away. What’s going to be your defence? He called you a ‘n******’ and nothing’s really going to happen to him, but you assaulted him?

“It does bother me, and it bothers my friends. But you kind of get used to it.”

Brian with his Legion teammates Peter and Eoghan O'Sullivan.

Brian is a talented Gaelic footballer and he played a starring role for the Legion minor team who won the County League Division 1 title last year. It’s a happy memory for the young midfielder, who says the club have welcomed him with open arms since he joined in 2015.

Unfortunately, his time in the GAA hasn’t all been plain sailing. When he was 17, a minor match descended into a mass brawl when Brian was racially abused by an opponent.

“It was one of those games,” he recalls. “It was tight and tensions were high. This guy pushed me, I pushed him back, he went for a swing and he missed, I went for a swing and I hit him. He was on the floor and the next thing you know he just said, ‘you black c***’.

“To be fair, my teammates stood up for me and I was very happy about that. But I was honestly very hurt.

"I don’t understand why someone has to call me a ‘black c***’. Why can’t he just call me a ‘c***’?”

Okwute received the full backing of his teammates and coaches in the aftermath of the verbal attack but, even though the referee reported it, the player in question was not suspended. The player’s club attempted to set up a meeting so he could offer an apology but, upset by the fact that the perpetrator hadn’t been punished, Brian refused.

“I didn’t want anything to do with it.”

Sadly, Brian’s younger brother, Daniel, was also subjected to racist abuse while playing underage soccer for Killarney Celtic. The incident reduced the boy to tears.

The elder Okwute says the killing of George Floyd made him "sick to [his] stomach" but he is regrettably all-too-familiar with the concept of prejudice.

“If you’re black, you’ve definitely experienced racism at one point,” he says. “You kind of get used to it and brush it off like it never happened. You move on. But it’s not easy. I know I’m going to be racially abused at least once every year.

"Someone is going to say something to me.”

TRUMP

Ohio native Aaron Jackson played National League basketball for the Scotts Lakers last season and although he says he felt "more comfortable being black in Ireland than being black in America”, he was also racially abused during his time here.

“I’m positive that my presence bothered certain people but it’s just more obvious in America, especially since Donald Trump has been elected,” Jackson says.

Aaron Jackson in action for Scotts Lakers. Pic: Eamonn Keogh.

“In Killarney, I can only remember one time that really stood out to me and was blatant racism. My teammate X (Xavier Talton, a fellow black player) and I were walking home one night from a pub and a car full of fellas were heckling us. They said, ‘n*****s, go back to where you came from’.

“Personally, we brushed it off because we have probably heard it hundreds of times growing up in the States. It wasn’t until that night that it was solidified to me that racism lives everywhere. Although I felt hurt in the moment by it, I brushed it off because I met so many great Irish people who saw no colour at all.”

ANTI-RACIST

A quote attributed to political activist Angela Davis has gained a lot of traction this week: “it’s not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist”.

For their part, Ozzy and Brian echo these sentiments and say that white allies need to call out discrimination whenever they see it.

Brian, who would also like to see harsher penalties for those found guilty of racial abuse, says he understands why some individuals don’t get involved.

"But if that was your son," he asks, "how would you feel? You have to put yourself in our shoes.”

“It’s Ireland so everybody knows everybody,” Ozzy adds. “They’re afraid to offend the people they know, or get involved in a fight with someone, so they don’t stand up for those who are not from here. People are good but they don’t do enough.

“The good thing is that there are a lot more nice people in Ireland than bad people. They just need to be more vocal when it comes to standing up for what they believe in. That’s all.”

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Kerry Camogie vow to back players in shorts/skorts controversy

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by Adam Moynihan

The Kerry County Board will back their players if they decide to defy the rulebook and wear shorts after officials at the Camogie Association’s National Congress voted to keep the controversial skort.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, Kerry Camogie chairperson Ann Marie Russell confirmed that she is fully behind the players, the vast majority of whom want the skort to be binned.

“I know there have been calls for a protest, that they would all go out the first weekend of the championship and wear shorts,” Russell said. “If the players felt that was something they wanted to do, Kerry Camogie would absolutely support them.

“It should be up to the people who it affects. It doesn’t matter to me what the players wear or what they look like. They should be comfortable.”

The punishment for not wearing the correct playing gear is a yellow card which can be followed by a red card for dissent if not rectified.

Players say the skirt-like garment is not comfortable and they were hopeful that it would finally become a thing of the past when the issue was raised at Congress in Kildare last weekend.

However, a motion by Tipperary and Kerry to replace it with shorts was defeated by 64% to 36%. A similar proposal by Great Britain and Meath which would have given players the option to choose between skorts and shorts also fell well short of the two-thirds majority required (55% against, 45% in favour).

Voting was carried out by delegates from the various county boards as well as members of central and provincial councils. The majority of voters were female.

As one of Kerry’s two delegates, Russell confirmed that she voted in line with the players’ wishes, but she fears that delegates from some counties didn’t do likewise.

“Our job as delegates is to speak on behalf of the players and I definitely felt as though that wasn’t reflected by some of the other counties. I don’t know any girl in any age group at any level that goes to training in a skort. That, in itself, should speak volumes to the powers that be. Even the counties that wanted to keep the skorts, there’s no way their girls go training in skorts. I know they don’t.

“When camogie first started, women weren’t allowed to wear pants, so they had no choice but to wear skirts. They were longer at the time and things have evolved since then. The design is better. But there is a misconception that there are shorts underneath the skirts so ‘what’s the big deal?’ They’re not shorts, they’re compression shorts. That’s not the same thing.

“And look, I’m not wearing the skorts so it doesn’t matter to me. You have to listen to the players. That’s what I feel.

“We’re making decisions that really have little relevance to us, so we really have to take our players’ opinions into it. I’m not sure how many delegates go back and ask their players about these motions before they vote on them.”

Also speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, Kerry senior player Niamh Leen outlined the specific issues players have with the skort.

“If you went around the country, I guarantee you that you’d only find a handful of girls actually training in a skort,” the Clanmaurice woman said. “I’ve never been to a training session where someone was wearing a skort. We’re all in shorts.

“The practical side of it is that they’re really uncomfortable. They’re constantly rising up and I spend the majority of the match pulling the skort down instead of concentrating on the game. It shouldn’t be that way.”

According to Leen, the discomfort felt by players is not just physical. There is also a psychological discomfort involved.

“I am very paranoid about the skort, especially the length. You spend a lot of time bending over to pick up the ball and I am conscious of it. Even if you size up, it’s still too short. The only way to counteract it is to wear Skins (base layer) underneath which I don’t really like doing because that’s not overly comfortable either.

“It should be a players’ vote at the end of the day. We’re the ones who actually have to wear them and we should be the ones having the say. But, unfortunately, it’s not up to us.

“It’s very, very annoying. I could use harsher words but it is just frustrating, you know? We’ve wanted this motion to be passed for so many years.

“Nobody I know likes playing in a skort and it’s frustrating that our own organisation aren’t taking the players into account.”

This is not the first time a proposal to replace the skort has been rejected and players will have to wait another three years for the next Congress to try to alter the rules on an official basis.

Leen believes that she and her colleagues should not have to wait that long and questions the reasoning of those delegates who voted to keep the status quo.

“Honestly, I think it’s to keep the tradition and to keep us unique, and maybe they see the skorts as being more feminine, which is just mind-boggling for me. I just don’t understand how that could be a reason to keep something that’s making girls uncomfortable.

“I understand that it’s the tradition, but sometimes traditions have to move on.”

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MATCH PREVIEW: Kerry name strong team for league final showdown with Armagh

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by Adam Moynihan

Lidl National League Division 1 Final

Kerry v Armagh

Sunday 3pm

Croke Park

Live on TG4

The Kerry ladies return to Croke Park on Sunday hoping to retain their Division 1 crown and managers Declan Quill and Darragh Long have named a strong-looking line-up for their battle against Armagh.

Kerry mostly used the league for experimenting but they still managed to win five of their seven matches, enough to secure a top two finish.

Now almost all of The Kingdom’s big hitters are back in play, as evidenced by the team they have selected for this weekend’s Division 1 decider at HQ.

Eleven members of the side that lost to Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland final have been selected to start against Armagh. The four “new” starters are goalkeeper Mary Ellen Bolger, full back Deirdre Kearney, midfielder Mary O’Connell and full forward Emma Dineen.

Dineen has rejoined the panel following a spell abroad and has slotted seamlessly into Kerry’s full forward line. She will be flanked by Footballer of the Year Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh and the skilful Hannah O’Donoghue, who scored 1-2 against Galway a fortnight ago.

The only really notable absentee – apart from veterans like Emma Costello and Louise Galvin who haven’t yet featured for the team in 2024 – is Síofra O’Shea. The dynamic attacker, who heroically came off the bench in last year’s All-Ireland despite damaging her ACL in the lead-up to the game, is still rehabbing that serious injury.

Meanwhile, the return of All-Star defender Cáit Lynch bolsters Kerry’s back six. The Castleisland Desmonds woman has been used sparingly so far this year and she came on at half-time in that final regulation league game versus Galway.

Quill and Long are likely to call on substitutes Amy Harrington and Danielle O’Leary to make an impact if and when required.

Kerry’s sole loss in the league came at the hands of their final opponents, Armagh, who are looking to emulate what The Kingdom achieved last season by winning Division 1 at the first attempt after gaining promotion from Division 2 the previous season.

The Orchard County beat Kerry by 3-14 to 1-13 at the Athletic Grounds just over a month ago.

They flew through the regular phase of the 2024 competition, winning six games in a row before losing to Dublin in Round 7 with many key players being rested.

Star forward Aimee Mackin has been in blistering form. She has racked up 6-21 (4-15 from play) to date, including 2-6 (1-6 from play) in that meeting between the eventual finalists in March.

Armagh had not yet named their team for the final as this article was being published.

This match forms part of a double header with the Division 2 final between Kildare and Tyrone (1pm). Both games will be televised live on TG4.

Kerry team to play Armagh:

1. Mary Ellen Bolger (Southern Gaels)

2. Cáit Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds)

3. Deirdre Kearney (Na Gaeil)

4. Eilís Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds)

5. Aishling O’Connell (Scartaglin)

6. Ciara Murphy (MKL Gaels)

7. Kayleigh Cronin (Dr Crokes)

8. Mary O’Connell (Na Gaeil)

9. Anna Galvin (Southern Gaels)

10. Niamh Carmody (Captain – Finuge/St Senan’s)

11. Niamh Ní Chonchúir (Corca Dhuibhne)

12. Lorraine Scanlon (Castleisland Desmonds)

13. Hannah O’Donoghue (Beaufort)

14. Emma Dineen (Glenflesk)

15. Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh (Corca Dhuibhne)

Subs: Ciara Butler, Danielle O’Leary, Amy Harrington, Ciara McCarthy, Ciara O’Brien, Katie Brosnan, Aoife Dillane, Bríd O’Connor, Kate O’Sullivan, Eilís O’Connor, Fay O’Donoghue, Jess Gill, Róisín Smith, Siobhán Burns, Keri-Ann Hanrahan.

Follow Adam on Twitter/X for all the latest updates from the Ladies Division 1 final at Croke Park

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