Lurgan footballer who kicked opponent and punched referee jailed

Niall Lavery grabbed referee and punched him in the face while playing cup match

Niall Lavery committed the offences during a ‘feisty’ cup match between Lavery’s team Silverwood and Mourneview Mill in 2017. Photograph: Pacemaker Press

Niall Lavery committed the offences during a ‘feisty’ cup match between Lavery’s team Silverwood and Mourneview Mill in 2017. Photograph: Pacemaker Press

 

A bad tempered footballer from Lurgan in NI who kicked an opponent in the head during a match before punching the referee who was about to send him off, has been jailed for 15 months.

Standing in the dock of Craigavon Crown Court on Friday, 32-year-old Niall Lavery wiped away tears and his wife wept in the public gallery as Judge Patrick Lynch QC ordered the “obviously talented” player to spend a further 25 months on licence following his release.

He told Lavery that while he accepted his “profound regret” over the incident, behaviour such as his “had no place” on a sporting field.

“Your conduct on the 25th March, 2017 has disgraced yourself and disgraced your sport,” the judge told Lavery.

“There is no place in such sporting conflicts, whether it be a rugby field, or football field or Gaelic field fiendish activity as this, an unprovoked assault in the most violent manner upon an opponent.”

With a jury sworn in and ready to hear evidence in the trial Lavery, from Bowens Mews in Lurgan, changed his plea and confessed to unlawfully and maliciously causing grievous bodily harm to Gary Hill with intent to cause him grievous bodily harm and the assault of Joshua Porter, the match referee that day.

Prosecuting counsel Ian Tannahill told the court the offences arose during what was described as a “feisty” cup match between Lavery’s team Silverwood and Mourneview Mill, who won 2-0 on the end.

Temper

He said there was “some indication” as to Lavery’s temper earlier in the match when, having missed a penalty, he gave a lengthy, foul-mouthed rant but the incident giving rise to the charges happened in the closing minutes.

Mr Hill passed the ball and Lavery, known as ‘buckshot’, swiped his feet out from under him.

According to the referee’s statement, he was reaching into his back pocket for a red card to send Lavery off for that tackle when he kicked Mr Hill in the face.

Mr Tannahill said those who saw the kick described Lavery “planting his foot and kicking the other man’s head as if he was taking a kick in the game”.

It was during the ensuing melee, as players from both teams rushed to the incident and tried to restrain Lavery, that he grabbed the referee by the shirt and “punched him in the face”.

After the match, Mr Hill was taken to hospital where he received eight stitches above and below his right eye and had a fracture to his “zygomatic arch”.

Mr Tannahill also said in 2009, Lavery was playing for Lurgan Celtic against the PSNI when after the final whistle, he punched a PSNI player in the face causing a nose bleed and two black eyes. He was given a police caution.

Defence barrister Barry McKenna conceded the incident was “an appalling and disgraceful thing to do” and for which Lavery is “truly sorry”.

“This particular incident is completely out of context as to how he deals with himself in his everyday life,“ said the lawyer.

The judge said while Mr Hill had made a good recovery, the reaction of his young five-year-old son who saw the incident was “more poignant”.

“The boy asked his father on the way back ‘is that part of football, are you allowed to kick people in the face’,” the judge said.

“That’s the effect that people who misbehave in football have, whether in the lower leagues or on TV, they have a profound effect on young people.”