A mentor on a minor football team, and a player from that team, were both found guilty of assaulting a referee in Portlaoise District Court today. The incident, which took place on May 30th of last year, occurred in a minor football developmental league match between Portarlington and Stradbally.
Evin Bennett, 53, with an address at Ship House, Portlaoise Road, Portarlington, was found guilty of headbutting the referee, Mr Michael Tarpey, just before the end of the match. A player on the Portarlington team was found guilty of punching the referee in the subsequent melee. The match was immediately abandoned.
Under reporting restrictions imposed by the court the player, who was under 17 at the time of the offence, cannot be named. Judge Nicola Andrews delayed sentencing pending the provision of a probation services report on the defendants in the case.
Having listened to “two and a half” days of evidence, Judge Andrews said that Mr Tarpey’s testimony in court and in statements to gardaí had been “consistent and truthful.”
CCTV footage taken from a camera fixed to the side of the main stand in Portarlington had been central to the case, with both the defence and prosecution acknowledging its limitations. Judge Andrews, however, concluded that Bennett had made a movement towards Mr Tarpey which was consistent with a headbutt.
Both Mr Tarpey and Bennett had made statements to gardaí on the night of the incident, and Bennett made a further statement a week later. In those statements Bennett alleged that he had been struck twice by Mr Tarpey – who was not charged with any offence. During cross-examination by his own counsel, Bennett further alleged that he had been struck “at least” six times.
The court heard that Bennett had entered the field to engage with the referee after one of the Portarlington players was sent off. The player had originally received a black card but returned to the pitch before being granted permission to do so by Mr Tarpey.
When the Portarlington management asked Mr Tarpey how much longer the player must stay on the sideline, he replied “20 seconds.” When that time had elapsed the player rejoined the game without a signal from the referee, which is a yellow card offence.
In Gaelic football, a black card followed by a yellow card results in a player being sent off. The yellow card was upgraded to a straight red card, however, after the player questioned the decision and reportedly abused the referee.
Bennett said he initially entered the field because he was worried about how the player might react to the red card. He kept going toward the referee, he said, to query the decision but also in the hope that he might “change the referee’s mind” or “influence his report.” Bennett was concerned that the player would be suspended for an upcoming championship match for an offence that he described as “harsh” and “petty.”
Bennett was asked by prosecuting counsel Michelle O’Connell if he had any experience of a referee changing his report after being approached in this way. Bennett answered “yes”, but accepted that “it was probably not the appropriate time.”
In her judgment, Judge Andrews said that if Bennett “had observed the GAA’s rule about not entering the pitch, this incident would not have happened.”
The case is listed for mention again on March 4th.