Player needed extensive surgery after off-the-ball incident in Wexford Intermediate Championship match
A footballer who broke an opposing player's jaw in two places in an off-the-ball incident during a Wexford Intermediate Championship game was found guilty of assault by a jury at Wexford Circuit Criminal Court.
St Mary's Rosslare player, 41-year-old Larry Morrissey, from Ballycronigan, Rosslare Harbour, punched HWH/Bunclody player Bryan O'Hara in the face during the intermediate game at Bellefield GAA Grounds in Enniscorthy on August 20, 2016, resulting in significant injuries, Prosecuting Counsel, Cephas Power, B.L. told the jury.
The defendant had pleaded not guilty to a charge of assault causing harm.
In evidence, Mr O'Hara, a finance director, said he was struck from behind by Morrissey, who drove his fist over his right shoulder and into his jaw.
"As a result of the blow I felt pain in my face and ringing in my ear and I had blood coming from my mouth. I fell to the ground, and was attended to by the club medic before being removed from the pitch," said Mr. O'Hara.
He was removed to University Hospital Waterford and from there taken to St. James' Hospital in Dublin where it was diagnosed that he had one break on his upper jaw, and another in his lower chin. He had to undergo surgery which involved having one plate inserted into the side of his jaw and two plates into his chin, with wire inserted to hold the plates.
Mr. O'Hara said that ten minutes into the second half his team, Bunclody, were on the attack. He was carrying the ball, but lost possession, and the ball passed to Larry Morrissey. He attempted to block Morrissey, but failed, and after turning around to go to his own position, he was struck from behind by the Rosslare player.
"Our physio attended to me on the pitch," said Mr O'Hara.
"After a couple of minutes I managed to get up, but the pain was very bad. The inside of my mouth was cut and bleeding quite heavily. The bleeding did not fully stop as I was leaving the pitch and I had to use a towel."
He said his father, Ger O'Hara, drove him to the hospital in Waterford where he had three X-rays before being sent on to St. James' in Dublin where he had to undergo surgery.
"Two of the three plates are still in my jaw. The third had to be removed as it was causing issues with my face. I had never previously been struck like this on the playing field," Mr O'Hara told the court.
Defence Counsel, Mairead Deevy, B.L., pointed out to Mr. O'Hara that he had suffered quite a number of injuries on the playing fields, including a broken arm and broken hand, to which he replied that he never broken an arm, but had broken a finger at one point.
Relating to the current incident before the court, Mr. O'Hara told Ms Deevy that the defendant had come from behind, striking him with his right fist. He also said that he had played against the defendant previously but there were no issues.
William Nolan, who told the court that he was in charge of the dressing rooms on the day, outlined what he saw.
"Bryan (O'Hara) headed towards the goal and was struck a blow on the right side of his face. Bryan went down and the referee came over to see him.
"The player who struck Bryan was wearing the No. 23 jersey. Bryan was running away blindside and did not see it coming. He was taken off the pitch with a towel under his chin," said Mr. Nolan who confirmed that in his statement about the incident, he said he had been involved in GAA for twenty years and this was the "worst incident he had ever seen".
Bunclody team medic, Damien Byrne, said Larry Morrissey followed Bryan (O'Hara), came up from behind and struck him in over his right shoulder with a punch.
"I ran onto the pitch and attended to him. Bryan said to me he had broken his jaw. He was on his hands and knees and rolled over. There was a lot of blood in his mouth, he was in a lot of pain and there was no function in his jaw."
Ms Deevy suggested he was not telling the full truth as he did not see the incident but Mr. Byrne said he saw Larry Morrissey running and making a beeline for Bryan O'Hara and striking him.
Garda Bernard McGinley gave evidence of investigating the assault and taking statements.
Denis Finn, a selector and coach with HWH/Bunclody, spoke of Bryan O'Hara running back towards his own goal when the Rosslare player came up from behind and struck him across the face.
Keith O'Hara in evidence said his brother Bryan was jogging back when Larry Morrissey came up from behind and struck him.
Bryan dropped to his knees and he (witness) shouted at the referee. When he went over to Bryan he saw blood on his face.
"On that night I was at home, Bryan was also back home. He had a basin under his chin with blood coming from his mouth," he said.
P.J. Lawlor, who said he was Chairman of St. Mary's at that time, told the court he did not see the incident as he was following the flight of the ball. He said that prior to the incident before the court the ball had gone over the sideline and Bryan O'Hara ran towards him, taking the ball aggressively from him.
In his evidence, defendant Larry Morrissey, said he played the ball off, went for the return pass, but was obstructed by Bryan O'Hara. He said when he swung his arm back to get free, he could have accidentally struck Bryan O'Hara in the face. He maintained he did not intentionally set out to injure anyone.
"As I played the ball off, I ran for the return pass when a player caught me by the shoulder. I swung around with my arm to break the tackle. Afterwards I found out it was Bryan O'Hara," he said.
Replying to Prosecuting Counsel, Mr Power, the defendant said he attended a Disciplinary Meting of Wexford G.A.A. and was given a ten-match ban which was reduced to eight on appeal.
"I accepted the ban. I was banned from playing football but I could still hurl," he said.
Robert Power, in evidence, spoke of having marked Bryan O'Hara that evening. It was quite a physical game, he said, and both of them had been spoken to by the referee during the game.
Replying to Ms Deevy, he said he did not see the incident involving Larry Morrissey and Bryan O'Hara.
John Devlin, who was at the game, said he saw the Bunclody player trying to stop Larry Morrissey with his arm outstretched.
In reply to prosecution counsel, Mr. Power, he said he did not make a statement or attend the disciplinary hearing.
After more than two hours of deliberation, the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict.
Judge Cormac Quinn adjourned sentencing to April 11, ordering a probation and welfare and victim impact reports.