Gardaí examine video to identify referee assailants

GARDAÍ are examining video footage and are in contact with GAA officials to identify fans who assaulted a referee and a steward during chaotic scenes in Croke Park on Sunday.

Footage from RTÉ cameras shows at least five spectators assaulting or man-handling referee Martin Sludden during a pitch invasion that followed the controversial end to the Leinster senior football final.

Garda sources said at least one spectator — whose face is clearly caught on RTÉ camera after punching the referee in the chest — could be prosecuted for assault.

Officers are also checking Croke Park CCTV to see if they captured a fan who threw a plastic bottle at a steward, hitting him in the head.

The ugly scenes have increased pressure on the GAA to bring in measures to completely stop pitch invasions. While gardaí are slow to get involved in what they see as an “internal matter”, it is understood they want the change to be made.

One garda source said all that was needed were individuals from rival teams to get involved in a row on the pitch and a “melee” could develop.

A lead garda investigator has been appointed to investigate the assaults that happened after Mr Sludden awarded Meath a last-minute goal, snatching victory from Louth, who were in their first provincial final in 53 years.

As the referee was booking protesting Louth players at the end of the game, a number of Louth fans stormed on to the pitch.

One fan punched Mr Sludden in the chest in full view of another match official. His face is clearly visible on RTÉ cameras.

As a garda sergeant went on to the pitch to protect the referee a number of other fans came on and barged into, pushed and jostled the referee, who had to run for his safety.

“We are investigating the assaults and we are looking at CCTV footage and RTÉ coverage,” said a garda source.

He said the garda team would contact GAA HQ first to try and identify the individuals involved. He said if this didn’t work they would be in contact with Louth County Council.

He said they would also interview the referee. “We will look at the footage first. We can contact the referee after that,” he said.

He stressed that much will depend on the attitude of Mr Sludden, to see if he wants to pursue charges.

The source said the injury to the steward would also form part of the investigation and they would ascertain if the culprit can be identified in any way.

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