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Gaelic football star exposed as leader of illegal dog-fighting club

DUBLIN, Ireland -- A star of Ireland's Gaelic football
league was exposed Thursday as a director of an illegal
dogfighting club.

This case hits close to home after Atlanta Falcons quarterback
Michael Vick pleaded guilty to conspiracy in a dogfighting ring. Vick has been linked to killing six to eight dogs that did not perform well in testing sessions in April. The dogs were executed by drowning or hanging.

The 17-month undercover investigation by BBC Northern Ireland's
"Spotlight" program, broadcast Thursday night, found evidence of
15 illegal dogfighting operations in the British territory of 1.7
million people.

The program secretly filmed Gerard Cavlan, a 31-year-old member
of the County Tyrone Gaelic football team, discussing his ownership
of more than a dozen dogs -- and bragging about how one
"hard-mouthed dog" gripped another in its jaws.

"Sure he had him in the chest, and he shook him and he shook
him for 25 minutes," Cavlan said during a conversation filmed
covertly in his vehicle.

The BBC program deployed an undercover specialist from England
who duped organizers of two dogfighting clubs in Northern Ireland
and two breeders of American pit bulls in Finland who supplied dogs
to Cavlan and other Northern Ireland-based dog fighters. All were
filmed discussing the tricks of their trade and methods of evading
detection by authorities.

The two Finland-based breeders, Robert Gonzales and Paul Dunkel,
were shown being confronted by the BBC crew with evidence of their
dealings before police arrested them.

The program displayed documents showing that Cavlan acquired a pit
bull, named Cannon Ball, from Gonzales and traveled to Finland to
observe dog fights.

It filmed Cavlan saying he had co-founded a dogfighting club
called Bulldog Sanctuary Kennels. The program described his
business partner as "Dee," a Protestant extremist and drug
dealer.

"Spotlight," the flagship investigations program for the BBC
in Belfast, also secretly filmed a dogfighting competition in
Finland involving Gonzales and Tom Bell, an organizer of another
Northern Ireland dogfighting club called the Farmers Boys.

Gonzales was recorded getting down on hands and knees in front
of two 50-pound dogs and egging on his dog to kill the other.

The Gaelic Athletic Association permitted Cavlan to continue
playing for Tyrone after the Ulster Society for Prevention of
Cruelty to Animals raided a kennel and seized more than a dozen
dogs, mostly pit bulls, that were bred for fighting. It identified
Cavlan as co-owner of the raided facility and he pleaded guilty in
April to possession of a dangerous dog.

At the time, Cavlan's lawyer said his client had picked up the
animal Cannon Ball for a Dublin friend and didn't realize the dog --
which had several scars -- was being abused in illegal fights. He
was fined $1,300 and ordered not to keep terrier breeds.

The football association and the County Tyrone team declined
comment Thursday. Officials said they needed to see the program
first. Attempts to contact Cavlan for comment were unsuccessful.

Cavlan's team won the Ireland championship in 2003. This year it
lost in the quarterfinals of the annual competition among teams
from each of the island's 32 counties.

Vick apologized this week after entering his plea to a charge of dogfighting. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 10. and the former Virgina Tech standout could go to prison for one to five years. He has already been suspended indefinitely by the National Football League.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.