A young GAA star who had part of his ear bitten off as he tried to break up a fight at a New Year's Eve disco has told how his life has been ruined after the incident.
Peacemaker Philip McNern was enjoying a night out with friends at Sky Nightclub in Co Donegal on December 31, 2017.
A scuffle broke out nearby and a man came over to him, leaned into him and then bit a chunk off his ear.
Brandon McClay, his attacker, appeared at Donegal Circuit Court, where he pleaded guilty to a Section 3 assault on the young GAA player.
Mr McNern, who was a member of the Donegal Under 18 squad at the time, had to undergo emergency treatment at Galway University Hospital.
Despite three operations, the part of the ear bitten off could not be reattached.
A heartbreaking victim impact statement from Mr McNern told how his life had changed forever as a result of the vicious attack.
Garda Charlie Gallagher told the court of the events in the night and how, at about 2am he saw McClay coming out of Sky Nightclub at the Abbey Hotel wearing just one shoe and a blood-stained top.
Philip McNern came out a short time later and was covered in blood and was taken away in an ambulance.
Mr McNern's friends came out and accused McClay of biting their friend as gardaí went into the nightclub to recover a part of Mr McNern's ear and put it on ice in a bid to save it.
McClay, who is now aged 23 but was aged 20 at the time, was arrested on February 16, 2018, but initially said it wasn't something that he would do [bite a person]. He said he had been dizzy, had blood on his mouth, had received three stitches at Letterkenny University Hospital and said he thought it was he who had been bitten.
The court said he was shocked to later learn from gardaí at what had happened.
Garda Gallagher told the court that he had been stationed in Donegal Town Garda Station and that McClay, of The Mullans, Donegal Town, had never come to his attention before or after the event.
He accepted that he came from a good family and that he had never been in trouble up until this and kept himself busy.
Although the victim was not in court, he presented a victim impact statement.
He said he continued to have flashbacks and could not sleep after he watched a doctor throw a piece of his ear in a bin at Sligo University Hospital because it could not be reattached.
He told how sport was his life, especially GAA, but had to wear a 'scrummage-cap' when playing and everyone looked at him.
He struggled wearing PPE when Covid came in and children pointed at him because of his disfigured ear.
"I kept thinking it was my fault and now I have to live with it for the rest of my life without the top of my ear. If I have children I'll have to make up a story and tell them why I lost the top of my ear," he said.
He said he could not put it into words how much his life had changed and how he just longed for a normal life again.
Barrister for McClay, Des Dockery, SC, said this was a "spontaneous act of pure madness and utter stupidity" but stressed it was not premeditated.
"It was done in drink and it was out of character," he said.
He added that his client offered a full apology to Mr McNern and said it was offered with "contrition, humility and sincerity."
Mr Dockery said that despite Covid, McClay had managed to save some money, €3,700, by working in his father's fish-processing business.
He said this was a token as it was all he could save but further compensation could be offered.
But he added that a prison sentence would be "devastating" for his client.
Judge John Aylmer said this was a "very serious case and a difficult case having regard to all of the circumstances."
He adjourned it until next week for sentence.