A teenage soccer player lost his court case against his former club for psychological injury as the judge found that the boy’s coach was conscientious and the plaintiff's father was “a caring parent not blessed with insight”,
Seán Cooke of Highfields, Ballea Road, Carrigaline, who is now 18 brought the case against Carrigaline United as a result of how he was allegedly treated when he was aged around 13/14.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said, “This being a significantly emotional case, at times it has been difficult to understand what is going on and what the sequence of evidence was. The plaintiff gave evidence, overwhelmed by emotion, totally convinced he suffered injury.”
Tim Mawe, coach, was blamed by the plaintiff and his father for not playing Seán regularly in matches after falling out with Declan Cooke. Mr Mawe denied this totally in evidence yesterday on what was the second day of the civil action.
Mr Mawe said Declan Cooke initially asked him and Ethan McCarthy to coach the team on which Seán was playing in the 2011/2012 season.
He said it was the most successful season the team ever had but that Declan Cooke was complaining about the management of the team. “It was non-stop complaints, even about something like a misplaced pass during a match.”
Kieran Hughes, barrister for the club, asked Mr Mawe about the motion of no confidence Mr Cooke put forward against Mr Mawe and his colleague Ethan McCarthy. He said that at that meeting nine out of eleven parents said they were very happy with the two coaches.
Mr Mawe, a PhD student, said, “We were volunteers doing a great job. It was very hurtful. Putting in such time and effort with no appreciation whatsoever for it.”
Mr Mawe said that he objected to Mr Cooke going on to a management committee following the unsuccessful vote of no confidence tabled by Mr Cooke. He said there was no way he would ever leave out a player who was doing really well but that they could not be rushed back if injured.
He said that Seán was played in every game for the rest of the season after the no confidence motion and that he was injured playing for Cork before the next season missing out a lot of pre-season training. He said that was why he was being eased back in to the team as a substitute.
“You are dealing with kids, I would love to play them all. You can only play 11,” Mr Mawe said.
He said that the plaintiff was on the bench for one match and at around half time, his mother Sharon Cooke arrived and allegedly said, among other things, “Seán get your things, we are out of here. Later I got a text from his father saying, ‘Don’t ever contact me or my family ever again’,” Mr Mawe testified.
Mathew Maguire, the plaintiff’s barrister, put it to Mr Mawe that after the disagreement with Declan Cooke – about the no confidence motion - he took it out on the son. He replied, “No, I played him in six matches in a row directly after that.”
He said that after playing him a few times as a sub the following season, “he or his parents decided it was game over. I don’t know why.”
The other coach for the team is now coaching in America and was not available for the case yesterday. Judge Ó Donnabháin said he had no problem with that.
Summing up the plaintiff’s case Mr Maguire BL said that while one element of the complaint might seem innocuous on its own the cumulative effect caused post-traumatic stress for the boy.
Judge Ó Donnabháin said he found Mr Mawe to be truthful and conscientious and he took account of his evidence that the plaintiff did not attend for a significant amount of pre-season training as a result of a knee injury. “He was managed carefully by Mr Mawe as best he could in the circumstances,” the judge said.
The judge said of Declan Cooke, “He is a caring parent, not over-blessed with insight.”
On the claim that he was mismanaged or bullied the judge said he could not find for the plaintiff.
The plaintiff’s solicitor, John F. Daly, said afterwards that his clients brought the case as a family because of what they felt was constant bullying behaviour over a two-year period whereby Seán felt he had to walk away from a club he had loved since he was a child.
“He has since moved on with his life and is happy playing elsewhere. He wishes his former club all the best in the future as well as his former teammates,” Mr Daly said.
The young plaintiff said at Cork Circuit Court on the opening day of the case that he was an extremely good player at the time but he was not getting the games and was not getting the chance to show his skills for talent scouts from cross-channel clubs.
Asked why he stopped playing for Carrigaline United, he said, “Because I was not being treated right. I wasn’t being treated the way I should have been treated. I was told I was not good enough.”
He said, “I went home and locked myself in my room. I smashed my phone against my wall. For that year I could not play.”
Seán’s father Declan Cooke believes that this was a crucial year in his son’s development as a player and that a lot of opportunities were opening up at that time with expressions of interest from scouts in clubs including Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday.
He felt that everything soured for his son after he (Declan Cooke) brought a motion of no confidence in coaches Tim Mawe and Ethan McCarthy. Parents voted confidence in the coaches.
Declan Cooke said that in the following season his son only started two out of the first seven games and became a pawn in a game of chess.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said to the teenager’s father, “You are going to have to distance yourself from himself and his career.” Declan Cooke replied, “Absolutely.” The judge said, “You have not done it yet, listen to what I am saying, you have not done it yet.”
At another stage the judge said, “We are talking about amateur child sport. This is like Machiavelli gone mad.”
Psychologist Caroline Goldsmith said the plaintiff suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of being excluded from his team and allegedly being jeered during some matches when he started playing for College Corinthians. The plaintiff is now playing with Waterford United.
As the psychologist was giving evidence, the judge said, “Do you realise all of these are supposed to be team sports? It is significantly missing in what I have heard today, it is all me, me, me.”
The psychologist said the trauma occurred in being excluded from the team and excluded from his peers.