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GAA urged to have 'sense' over Donegal fundraising soccer game row

Paul Dillon has urged the GAA to see "sense" over a fundraising soccer game. Picture from Naomh Colmcille CLG
Seamus McKinney

A Co Donegal man with motor neurone disease (MND) has called on the GAA to have “sense” over plans to punish a club for hosting a fundraising soccer match for him.

Newtowncunningham club Naomh Colmcille staged a seven-a-side soccer game at its practice pitch to raise money for former player and underage coach Paul Dillon (45).

The father-of-three used the €5,200 to make his home wheelchair accessible after he was diagnosed with the debilitating illness.

While the GAA at national level can permit the use of grounds for “activities other than those controlled by the association”, clubs are not permitted to allow their facilities to be used for anything other than association activity.

As a result, the Donegal county board has recommended an eight-week suspension on all adult players at Naomh Colmcille club.

The suspension is currently under appeal.

The affair has echoes of a high-profile dispute in Cork last year when the GAA initially refused permission to host a game in memory of former Republic of Ireland soccer player Liam Miller at Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium.

The former Celtic and Manchester United star died of cancer in February last year.

Following what was seen as a PR disaster, the GAA made a u-turn and the game went ahead.

The Donegal county board has confirmed the penalty was recommended in Naomh Colmcille's case.

In a statement issued this week, it added that the club had not been suspended pending the outcome of the appeal.

A spokesman said: “The findings of an investigation has recommended suspension for eight weeks. This is the minimum period of suspension for holding an unauthorised tournament.”

Organised by Donegal Fianna Fáil councillor Paul Canning, the soccer match was part of a campaign to raise money needed to build an extension to Mr Dillon’s home.

Mr Dillon said the fall-out from the club gesture had saddened him but he was overwhelmed by his friends and club mates’ efforts to help him.

“It was fellas that I would have played with over the years. I think the county board should see a little bit of sense in this and just have this ban overturned. It’s not the club’s fault,” he said.

The Donegal man said the fundraising effort had given his family a “great lift” after his diagnosis with MND at Christmas.

“For this to happen then is like a kick in the teeth for our family,” he added.

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