Donegal Democrat stands over story of referee abuse at U-14 final

Criticism of report refuted strongly

Peter Campbell


Peter Campbell

Donegal Democrat stands over story of referee abuse at U-14 final

Last week we carried a story on this page outlining the experience of a referee at the end of an U-14 Co. final in Gerald Gallagher Memorial Park, Mountcharles, which took place on Friday evening, 7th September.

A brief four par summary was also carried on our front page directing people to the main piece, such was the gravity of the story.

The report on the incident detailed how the referee was confronted by a large group of supporters as he left the field and had to be escorted by a St. Naul’s official to the dressing room while the abuse continued. He then had to remain in the dressing room for up to 20 minutes as the abuse continued before he felt safe to leave.

Since then the Red Hugh’s GAA club issued a statement expressing their disappointment at the publication of the story and casting doubts on its veracity and questioning the standard of ethics in the reporting.

We refute their claims and stand over our story 100%.

The game involved Red Hugh’s and Naomh Brid/Pettigo in a county final which Naomh Brid/Pettigo won.

The Red Hugh’s statement is long and well crafted and goes to great lengths to show how a reporter should do his job. But the only one word that they pick up on was ‘locked’ - that the referee was not locked in the dressing room. They say there was no mention in the referee’s report of him being  ‘locked’ in the dressing room. They choose to ignore the fact that he had to be escorted there by a St. Naul’s official and had to remain there until the crowd dispersed with the St. Naul’s official standing outside the closed door to ensure no one could enter the referee’s room.

Significantly, nowhere in the statement do they refute the fact that the incident took place.

In response, the Donegal Democrat can reveal that the story was common place in GAA circles that weekend. Our journalist was provided with a bona fide source of the highest order. We would say our source is ‘impeccable’ and was at the very heart of this incident, but does not wish to be named.  We would not carry such a story without having that bona fide evidence.

We stand over the story and based on what we believe is  in the referee’s report, the incident did take place and was not a fabrication.

As regards other media carrying the story, that is not the responsibility of the Donegal Democrat.

Since the publication of the story, social media, especially the Red Hugh’s Facebook account, have carried comments which are nothing short of outrageous, name calling, one comment a racist remark and litigious.

Our report clearly stated that it was supporters who were involved in the abuse and the referee’s report submitted concurs with that.

However, it seems as if the Red Hugh’s club has taken our   story as a slight on them and they have chosen to shoot the messenger.

The Red Hugh’s club wished that their statement be carried on the same page as the report appeared last week and we are happy to do so (see below).

This week we tried on numerous occasions to contact the Donegal Youth Minor Board and subsequently we contacted the Donegal GAA Co. Board chairman, Mick McGrath, who made the following statement.

“The board will be making no comment until after the Youth Minor Board CCC discuss the referee’s report on the game at their scheduled meeting this week.


While we don’t get to view the referee’s report on the incident, we are led to believe what happened is included in his match report.

A brief synopsis of what we believe is included  is that when he was leaving the pitch supporters were clapping off the Red Hugh’s team and then when they saw him, they turned on him and became abusive and verbally aggressive.

They continued to be aggressive as he walked to the dressing room and a senior member of the St. Naul’s club intervened and got him to the dressing room. Even when he was inside the dressing room, the verbal aggression continued despite the St. Naul’s official appealing for calm. The referee stayed in the dressing room until the crowd dispersed.

It is believed that the referee included in his report that he had a good relationship with the Red Hugh’s club and that no player, mentor, or official of the club was involved -  something that the Red Hugh’s statement picks up on.


On behalf of the Red Hughs GAA club, I wish to express our sincere disappointment at yesterday’s (Thurs 13/09) publication in your paper and website re: u14 Div 3 County Championship Final, on Friday September 7th last. In the news piece, allegations of the utmost gravity were made against some of our members by Mr Tom Comack of the Donegal Democrat. 

In the interest of fairness and accuracy, we should have been given the opportunity to respond to the allegations. Neither Mr. Comack nor anyone from the Donegal Democrat made any attempt to contact the Red Hughs Club. We have since received a copy of the referee’s report. In which he makes no mention whatsoever of being ‘locked’ in his dressing or being in fear of his safety. We have been in contact with St. Nauls and the club concurs there to be misleading inaccuracies in the report. 

Red Hughs GAA wholly and firmly condemn any violence and abuse, be this verbal or physical, against officials, managers, fellow players and supporters therefore we take very seriously the allegations made.

The club has had a longstanding, and positive, relationship with the referee in question, a fact he refers to at the end of his report. Indeed, the same referee officiated at a Minor match in Donegal Town in which or club played the morning after the U14 final in Mountcharles.

Furthermore we wish to highlight that this report goes against basic journalistic standards of ethics and good practice with the absence of any effort to investigate the exact nature of events. This report has subsequently been followed by national reporting. These allegations made in the report call into question the reputation of the club, the players, managers and supporters of the club, the damage of which is irreparable. Finally Red Hughs will fully cooperate in an investigation, if any, by the Donegal County Board.

We will insist on equal prominence (same page and section) in your printed media as well as your social media and web based platforms to refute all allegations made in your publication on the 13th of September.

Denis McGill,


Red Hughs GAA Club