Gaelic footballer who ripped opponent’s scrotum during match is spared jail
Teacher Michael Friel was playing for Naomh Colmcille when he grabbed Mr McMullan by the testicles
A Gaelic footballer has been given a three-month suspended prison sentence after ripping the scrotum of an opponent during a match.
Teacher Michael Friel, of Keshends, Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal, was charged with assault causing harm to Laurence McMullan during a Gaelic football match in Convoy on August 18, 2017.
Mr McMullan sustained a 7cm laceration to his scrotum that necessitated eight stitches.
At Letterkenny District Court today, Judge Éiteáin Cunningham sentenced Friel to three months in prison with the entirety of the term suspended for 12 months.
Friel was playing for Naomh Colmcille when he grabbed Mr McMullan, who was playing for St Mary’s, Convoy, by the testicles.
In a victim impact statement, Mr McMullan said he considered retiring from the game in the aftermath of the incident, which he said was a “very traumatic experience”.
Mr McMullan took the stand and told the court how he was affected physically and mentally, while the matter had an intimate affect in the early stages of his marriage.
Mr McMullan said adrenaline initially kept him going for the last six minutes of the game, but as soon as he looked at the injury he “knew it was more than a bad scrape”.
“I am well used to the rough and tumble of a game,” he said. “I received many a punch or late hit, but nothing like I experienced on August 18, 2017.”
Mr McMullan recalled how he had to get eight stitches while he was awake after receiving five injections to numb the area and remembered the “extremely painful” experience of having the stitches removed.
“I had to take time off work, I could only sit on a cushion and could only wear tracksuit bottoms,” he said.
While Mr McMullan returned to play in a championship semi-final as a substitute six weeks later, he felt “a shadow” of himself.
“I was no help to my team-mates for fear of getting hurt again,” he said.
“For some time after, I felt like walking away due to a lack of protection for players. But playing club football is a part of who I am. With the support of my family, I decided to continue as player-manager.”
Mr McMullan said the guilty verdict was a “huge weight” off his shoulders and said this matter should implore all players to “play within the rules and the spirit of the game”.
“These incidents are becoming more prevalent and need to be dealt with as there are consequences,” he said.
Barrister for Friel, Peter Nolan BL, instructed by solicitor Frank Dorrian, said his client did not intend to injure Mr McMullan.
“He followed the rules as far as we are concerned,” Mr Nolan said. “He feels this was an accident and something that simply happened in the course of a game. It could as easily have happened to him.”
Mr Nolan said his client is a teacher who comes from a good family and who has his whole life ahead of him.
“This will affect his promotional opportunities and I ask that the court be as lenient as possible,” Mr Nolan said.
Friel had acknowledged causing the injury but stressed that the incident was unintentional.
A previous sitting of the court heard that Friel sent Mr McMullan a text message to apologise the day after the game.
Inspector Paul McHugh said there was no attempt to tackle for the ball, which Mr McMullan had at chest level when the defendant made contact with the victim’s scrotum.
While "certain conduct is admissible and consented to” and there is a “certain degree of assumed risk when partaking in contact sport”, Judge Cunningham said the incident fell outside of what Mr McMullan had “explicitly consented to”.
Judge Cunningham, having reviewed video footage of the game, said she was satisfied that grabbing an opponent by the testicles and causing a seven-centimetre laceration was not “within the rules or culture” of Gaelic football.
In passing sentence, she said the matter represented a “serious assault” which she placed on the upper end of the jurisdiction of the District Court.
She said she had carefully considered Mr McMullan’s victim impact statement and a probation report on Friel, which was said to be “very positive”.
The mitigating factors, with Friel having had no previous convictions and the Probation Service deemed him a low risk of reoffending, were also taken into account.
Judge Cunningham issued a section 99 bond which means if Friel appears in court within 12 months he will be sent to prison for three months.
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