Football executive's apology for assault accepted


Shelbourne Football Club chief executive Ollie Byrne has escaped conviction after he apologised for assaulting Roddy Collins over remarks made on radio by the former Shamrock Rovers manager.

A charge of assault against Mr Byrne was struck out yesterday after Mr Collins said he accepted his apology. Mr Byrne, who has previous convictions, pleaded guilty to the assault at Tolka Park shortly before a Shelbourne-Rovers game in June last year.

Dublin District Court heard that Mr Collins, who was Rovers manager until November last year, had been speaking with his assistant manager, Terry Eviston, and Shelbourne captain Owen Heary, when he saw Mr Byrne and asked him how he was keeping.

Mr Byrne did not reply and as Mr Collins turned away to continue his conversation, Mr Byrne hit him on the side of his face with his fist. Mr Byrne threw a second punch and grabbed Mr Collins's shirt before the Rovers manager defended himself and security staff intervened. Mr Collins did not suffer any injuries although his shirt was torn. He borrowed another shirt from Shelbourne manager Pat Fenlon so he could continue his evening's work.

Mr Collins made a complaint to gardaí the next morning. He told the court yesterday that Mr Byrne had since apologised. "It was unfortunate that the incident took place and there probably was a bit of provocation," Mr Collins said.

"I am not happy it has come this far [ to court] though I know the procedure has to take place." He understood Mr Byrne was "under an amount of pressure" at the time. "It is regrettable. I know Ollie for 15 years and he is a good man."

Asked by Judge John Coughlan why he did it, Mr Byrne said he had been "sitting having dinner" when he got a phone call saying Mr Collins was on the radio.

"He was making scurrilous remarks about the financial situation and solvency of Shelbourne. They were totally irrelevant to football matters." When he heard them, he snapped and unfortunately the first person he saw when he got to Tolka Park that evening was Mr Collins.

"I was trying to keep a football club alive and it puts tremendous pressure on you. We are all passionate people in football and sometimes we do overstep the line, but it did infuriate me." Mr Byrne said he worked "24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year" in a business that is "a loss leader".

The court heard Mr Byrne had four previous convictions, including one in 1985 for handling stolen cigarettes, for which he spent a year in prison.

Judge John Coughlan said in view of Mr Collins's attitude, he would strike out the charge.

Yesterday was Mr Byrne's third trip to the Dublin District Court in the last four years. In 2002, he was fined €100 for running a teenage disco in the football grounds without a licence.

In 2003, he was cleared of a breach of the peace charge arising out of a confrontation with St Patrick's Athletic supporters who verbally abused him at a match in Richmond Park. He claimed that when he gave "the two fingers" to supporters of St Patrick's Athletic he was merely indicating that the score was 1-1.