Martin Sludden was confronted on the pitch by Louth fans after he allowed a goal to Meath in the closing seconds of the match at Croke Park. The Tyrone-based referee later admitted he was wrong to award the score, which cost Louth the Leinster Senior Football Championship title.
Joseph Conlon, aged 24, a plumber from Marlbog Road, Haggardstown, Dundalk, and dock worker Paul Grimes, aged 50, with an address at Willowdale Bay Estate, Dundalk, had pleaded not guilty at Dublin District Court to assaulting Mr Sludden at Croke Park on July 11, 2010.
Mr Sludden had initially made a complaint to gardaí, but withdrew it, and the prosecution relied on video evidence.
Lawyers for both men had asked the judge to dismiss the case, arguing that the injured party needed to give evidence that he had been assaulted.
However, Judge Bridget Reilly rejected the defence arguments and held that Conlon and Grimes had a case to answer. During the non-jury trial, she had viewed footage obtained from RTÉ’s sports department which she said showed “jostling, shoving and punching”.
The video evidence also showed that Mr Sludden ran off the pitch and was protected by several people, including a Garda sergeant and one of the linesmen.
Neither Conlon nor Grimes gave evidence.
Pleading for leniency, Donough McDonough BL, for Conlon, said his client had never been in trouble before and wanted to emigrate to Canada to find work. Conlon came from a respected family and had played football for Louth at U16 and minor levels as well as for his local club.
Testimonials were handed in, including one from Fine Gael senator Jim D’Arcy, who was also in the court.
Sean T O’Reilly, solicitor for Grimes, said his client had been a lifelong Louth GAA supporter, “in good times and in bad”.
“Unfortunately, that day his team was beaten,” Mr O’Reilly said, adding: “On the day in question supporters had waited 50 years to reach a final.”
A reference from Fianna Fáil TD Seamus Kirk was furnished to the judge. Mr O’Reilly said his client was a grandfather and had been involved in the GAA from the age of seven.
Grimes had two prior convictions for public order offences, for which he was fined €175, in May 2010, Judge Reilly heard.
The judge said the 2010 Leinster football final was “embedded in the mind of people in Meath and Louth particularly”.
She said the match referee was “the most immediate authority figure on the field and he or she must be respected”.
She accepted that Louth supporters were heartbroken and angry at the referee’s controversial decision. However, Judge Reilly said the defendants’ behaviour was inexcusable. She fined each man €1,000 which must be paid in within four months or they will be jailed for 45 days.