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GAA player narrowly avoids prison for ‘cowardly and disgusting’ on-field attack

Victim could have “lasting consequences” after being bitten in face and grabbed by genitals

Dungannon Court

The GAA has refused to clarify if any action has been taken against a player who committed a “disturbing, animalistic assault” during a match last year, while subject to a suspended sentence for previous violent offending.

Shea O’Neill, 27, from North Close, Stewartstown, engaged in what a judge described as “disgusting and cowardly” behaviour by biting into the face of an opponent while also grabbing his genitals during the on-field incident.

Dungannon Magistrates’ Court heard the attack occurred after an altercation erupted between two rival teams on October 10, 2022.

A defence barrister conceded O’Neill was previously subject to a suspended sentence for a different serious assault in 2019 which was handed down by Dungannon Crown Court.

However he urged Deputy District Judge Sean O’Hare to impose a probation order and not a custodial sentence.

He said his client had lodged £1,000 with his solicitor “to demonstrate his remorse” by way of compensation to the victim.

Addressing O’Neill directly Judge O’Hare condemned the act as “cowardly and disgusting, especially given the context of a sporting environment”.

He also noted that the incident could have lasting consequences for the victim.

While acknowledging O’Neill’s early acceptance of the matter, Judge O’Hare advised he had initially considered imposing a lengthy sentence and activating the suspended sentence.

However, he ultimately opted for a Combination Order consisting of 100 hours of community service, coupled with a two-year probation supervision period.

He warned O’Neill: “Any breach will result in an 18-month custodial sentence.”

Judge O’Hare also ordered him to pay £2,500 compensation to the victim.

The issue over the suspended sentence has been referred back to Dungannon Crown Court for consideration against the current offending.

Despite the gravity of the incident, the Ulster Council of the GAA has remained silent despite requests for comment.

It is therefore unclear if any sanction has been imposed on O’Neill and the lack of clarification coupled with the court’s decision to issue a non-custodial sentence, has turned the spotlight on the message being sent out around those involved in violence within sports and how such incidents are handled.

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