A GAA player has been acquitted of assaulting an opponent and breaking his nose during a Dublin league game.
The trial heard allegations that Alan O’Keeffe (30) “basically tried to break” Kevin Monk’s leg before hitting him in the face during the closing stages of the game. The defence denied this and said that he was acting in self-defence during the incident.
Earlier in the game Mr O’Keeffe’s twin brother Eric had been sent off after allegedly attacking Mr Monks who had fouled him.
The incident took place during a junior level match between Wild Geese and O’Connell’s Boys GAA club. Mr Monks (aged 44) later required corrective surgery to his nose.
Mr O’Keeffe of Portland Road pleaded not guilty to assault causing harm to Mr Monks on February 19, 2012 at Fairview Park, Fairview.
The jury at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court took two hours to find him not guilty following a three-day trial.
At the conclusion of the case Judge Patrick McCartan told the jury an anecdote about when he played for a north Wexford team in his youth. He said he played a match with two brothers on the opposing team and a third brother refereeing.
The judge said he tackled one of the brothers and “turned around to walk into the fist of the other.” There was no sanction from the referee.
Judge McCartan continued that his mother recently passed away and at the funeral he met the brother who hit him years before and received an apology.
“I’m telling you this story because I hope Mr O’Keeffe and Mr Monks have the same exchange sooner rather than later,” Judge McCartan said.
Addressing Mr O’Keeffe, he added: “You have been found not guilty but nevertheless you did something you shouldn’t have done.”
The court heard that there is now an offer of reconciliation on the table.
During the trial, prosecuting counsel Dara Hayes BL told the jury that this was a slightly unusual case as assaults generally take place on the streets rather than on football pitches.
He said there are differences in how people can act on and off the pitch. For example a shoulder in football is perfectly legal but if it occurred on the street it would be an assault.
Counsel said that there are punishments for fouls during matches within the rules of the game but that sometimes there are instances of foul play “so far outside the rules of the game that they are not encompassed by them.”
Defence counsel John Byrne BL said that Mr O’Keeffe was acting in self-defence at the time and that Mr Monks was the aggressor. The defence characterised the incident as “a squaring off”, that Mr Monks came at Mr O’Keeffe and he had to defend himself.
Counsel said Mr Monks was an unreliable and evasive witness. He said one witness saw punches being thrown from both sides and there were inconsistencies between what Mr Monks said in court and what he said in his statement.
Mr Byrne’s said his client co-operated with gardaí and “he stuck to his account when cross-examined. He wasn’t rattled in any way.”
Mr Monks, who played for Wild Geese, gave evidence that there was some “banter” in the early stages of the game and some comments made about Mr Monks winning possession over his younger opponents.
A free was awarded against him for a shoulder against O’Connell’s Boy’s player Eric O’Keeffe. Mr Monks told the court that Eric O’Keeffe then confronted and attacked him before he was given a red card and led away.
The game went on and Wild Geese were leading by between eight and 10 points when there was a free against Wild Geese.
The witness alleged that Alan O’Keeffe took over marking Mr Monks and began to “harass and hassle” him before trying to headbutt him.
Mr Monks said that as the ball was cleared up the pitch Mr O’Keeffe was holding his leg and basically trying to break it.
He said he got free and moved up the pitch and that when he turned around Mr O’Keeffe punched him in the face, breaking his nose.