Northern Ireland news

Footballer Niall Lavery jailed for kicking opponent in the head

Niall Lavery appears at a previous hearing

A bad tempered footballer who kicked an opponent in the head during a match before punching the referee who was about to send him off has been jailed for 15 months for assault.

Niall Lavery (32) wiped away tears and his wife wept in the public gallery as Judge Patrick Lynch QC ordered the “obviously talented” player to spend a further 25 months on licence following his release.

He told Lavery that while he accepted his “profound regret” over the incident, behaviour such as his “had no place” on a sporting field.

“Your conduct on the 25 March 2017 has disgraced yourself and disgraced your sport,” the judge told Lavery, “there is no place in such sporting conflicts, whether it be a rugby field, or football field or Gaelic field, fiendish activity as this, an unprovoked assault in the most violent manner upon an opponent.”

Lavery, from Bowens Mews in Lurgan, changed his plea at Craigavon Crown Court yesterday and confessed to unlawfully and maliciously causing grievous bodily harm to Gary Hill with intent to cause him grievous bodily harm and the assault of Joshua Porter, the match referee.

Prosecuting counsel Ian Tannahill told the court the offences arose during what was described as a “feisty” cup match between Lavery’s team Silverwood and Mourneview Mill, who won two-nil.

In the closing minutes Mr Hill passed the ball and Lavery, known as ‘buckshot’ by fellow players, swiped his feet out from under him.

According to the referee’s statement, he was reaching into his back pocket for a red card to send Lavery off when he kicked Mr Hill in the face.

Mr Tannahill said those who saw the kick described Lavery “planting his foot and kicking the other man’s head as if he was taking a kick in the game.”

It was during the ensuing melee, as players from both teams rushed to the incident and tried to restrain Lavery, that he grabbed the referee by the shirt and “punched him in the face.”

After the match, Mr Hill was taken to hospital where he received eight stitches to lacerations above and below his right eye while an x-ray revealed a fracture to his “zygomatic arch,” an injury which while successfully healed, has left him with a “slight depression” on his face.

The court was told Lavery previously assaulted an opponent.

In 2009, Lavery was playing for Lurgan Celtic against the PSNI at their New Forge pitch when after the final whistle, he punched a PSNI player in the face causing his nose to bleed and two black eyes.

Lavery was given a police caution after he accepted causing actual bodily harm.

Judge Lynch said that while Mr Hill had made a good recovery, the reaction of his young five-year-old son who saw the incident was “more poignant.”

“The boy asked his father on the way back ‘is that part of football, are you allowed to kick people in the face’,” revealed the judge adding “that’s the effect that people who misbehave in football have, whether in the lower leagues or on TV, they have a profound effect on young people.”

The judge revealed that Lavery was banned from playing football for a year, a punishment which gave him “a sense of surprise at the leniency” but he warned Lavery that he was considering imposing a Violent Offences Prevention Order “to ensure that you will not be on a football field” after his release.

Jailing Lavery, the judge adjourned that aspect of the case for further submissions.

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