Northern Ireland news

Jailed footballer Niall Lavery rejoined old club after pitch attack

Niall Lavery, pictured during a previous hearing, was jailed for 15 months on Friday for the double attack during a football match in 2017. Picture by Pacemaker
John Monaghan

A FOOTBALLER who was jailed for kicking an opponent in the head later rejoined Lurgan Celtic and breached his one year ban.

According to disciplinary records from the Irish Football Association, Niall Lavery (32) breached the terms of his year-long suspension from the game - imposed as a result of a double attack in 2017 - by lining out for Lurgan Celtic in a match later the same year.

Lavery was sent to prison for 15 months last Friday and is to spend a further 25 months on licence following his release.

A decision on whether to ban him from playing football when he leaves jail was adjourned.

The attack happened during a match in March 2017, when Lavery's team Silverwood, from Craigavon, met Mourneview Mill in a cup match described in court as "feisty".

In the closing minutes of the game, Lavery kicked an opponent in the head before punching a referee who was about to send him off.

Lurgan Celtic FC re-signed Niall Lavery, who also assaulted an opponent during his previous spell with the club, in the summer of 2018. Picture from Facebook

As a result of the double attack, Lavery was suspended "from all affiliated football" by the IFA for 12 months from May 2017, effectively sidelining him for the entire 2017-18 season.

During the court case, it emerged that Lavery had received a police caution after accepting assault causing actual bodily harm during a previous match in 2009.

On that occasion, while playing for Lurgan Celtic against the PSNI, he punched a PSNI player in the face, causing his nose to bleed and giving him two black eyes.

In August 2018, at the end of his year-long ban, Lavery was re-signed by Lurgan Celtic.

In a Facebook post at the time, the club said: "Niall Lavery is no stranger to the club and returned as a Hoops player during the summer. Midfielder 'Buckshot' brings his undoubted talent and experience to the midfield of the team."

However, during the season in which he was banned, according to IFA disciplinary records, Lurgan Celtic were fined £350 for fielding Lavery in a match against Institute in November 2017.

This came on top of a £100 fine imposed on the club after Lavery was found to have been reported for misconduct and unsporting conduct towards a match official in the same game.

He was initially suspended for four games before it was apparently realised that he was in fact banned from playing in the match in question in the first place.

On Friday, Judge Patrick Lynch expressed "a sense of surprise at the leniency" of the length of the ban imposed by the IFA.

The court was told that the player who was attacked, Gary Hill, received eight stitches to cuts above and below his right eye, while an x-ray revealed a fracture to his "zygomatic arch".

While the injury has successfully healed, he has been left with a "slight depression" on his face.

A defence lawyer for Lavery, from Bowens Mews in Lurgan, said his client had acted "completely out of context as to how he deals with himself in his everyday life" and expressed "profound regret" for the attacks.

Lurgan Celtic FC could not be contacted for comment.

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