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GAA fans defy pipe bombers

Published 10/02/2014

Simon Cunningham




GAA supporters defied loyalist pipe bombers yesterday by turning out in their hundreds for an inter-county match in Ahoghill.

The first-ever National Football League game to be staged at Clooney Gaels' ground outside the Co Antrim village went ahead despite a major security alert at the grounds on Saturday.

Just hours before the match, police were still at the scene carrying out a final sweep before declaring the area around the ground safe.

What they described as the remains of "a crude pipe-bomb type device" had been taken away for further examination the previous evening.

Up to three loud bangs were heard by people living close by at around 12.20am on Saturday.

The device caused scorch damage to an outside wall of the clubrooms and a broken window to the Acorn Centre building which is used by the Cloney Rural Development Association.

A club spokesman said there was never any consideration given to the Division Four match between Antrim and Wicklow not going ahead.

"We knew very quickly because of where the pipe bomb was placed and damage caused that it wasn't going to have any affect on the game," he said.

The club has been attacked numerous times before but the club official said they "won't let it stop us".

"I don't know what they were trying to achieve. The building is used by all sides of the community," he added.

It was the first time the club had ever hosted a senior county football match.

Around 300 had made the journey to the tiny ground on a normally quiet country lane outside Ahoghill.

And apart from the football it-self, the main topic of conversation was of the weekend bomb attack.

Derry supporter John McCloskey made the trip east to the game as a show of support for the Ahoghill club.

He said the decision to go ahead with the game "sent out the right message".

"If you were to cancel the game, then that could encourage people to target other matches," he said.

Antrim fan Tony Taylor from Belfast said he was "never put off" by the bombers.

"I never considered not coming," he said.

Eric Ross had made the short journey from Moneyglass and praised the club for their "great efforts" in staging the game.

Ulster GAA president Martin McAviney described the club as "a strong family focused volunteer sports club that contributes significantly to its local community".

"An attack on any community facility, in particular one that has a significant youth provision, is shameful and reprehensible," he said.

Condemning the incident, Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay said: "Such attacks belong in the past and no one wants to see any more of these attacks or any tit-for-tat attacks in response to this."

SDLP councillor Declan O'Loan said he believed the staging of the inter-county match at the ground "may be part of the reasoning behind this attack".

"This was a real bomb which damaged the building and could have caused serious injury or death to anyone handling it. I have no doubt that it was a deliberate attack on a GAA club from a loyalist source," he said.

n BUSINESS AS USUAL: Patrons watch on as Antrim take on Wicklow in the National Football League yesterday - the day after a pipe bomb had been discovered at the Ahoghill ground

PICTURE: Colm O'Reilly

* 'DELIBERATE ATTACK': Army bomb experts and police forensic staff survey the scene following a security alert at the Clooney Gaels club in Ahoghill, Co Antrim on Saturday PICTURE: Justin Kernoghan/Photopress