Former All Ireland winner John Malachy McGurk jailed for stealing £500k to fund gambling problem
A former All-Ireland GAA winner who gambled away more than half a million pounds he had stolen from his employer in a bid to recreate the buzz he got from his Croke Park success has been jailed for 10 months.
John Malachy McGurk won the All-Ireland title with Derry in 1993 but years later became a gambling addict and then a thief while an accountant for one of Northern Ireland's best known construction firms.
He will also serve 20 months on licence when he leaves jail.
Antrim Crown Court heard that the thefts by the former GAA star, from Drummuck Road near Maghera, brought the family-run quarry and tarmac firm Patrick Bradley Ltd of Kilrea to the verge of bankruptcy.
In all, the 50-year-old company accountant pleaded guilty to the theft of £572,206 from Bradley's and 34 other charges involving fraud by abuse of his position of trust from July 2006 until the end of 2011.
Passing sentence, Judge Desmond Marrinan said McGurk later told experts he was placing single bets of up to £3,000 a time and the thrill of the wins was "like playing football again".
He said McGurk "almost wrecked" the firm and for a long time it had been at risk of financial collapse.
The judge said the defendant may have harboured an honest but unrealistic view that he could have paid the money back "with the next roll of the dice". He accepted there was no evidence McGurk had spent the money on an extravagant house, cars or holidays and that he had even taken £38,000 from his joint account with his wife to spend on gambling.
Judge Marrinan said no doubt McGurk's fame in the community had helped him get the "generously paid" post at the well-established firm which employed 75 people.
However, in 2011, as a result of suspicions that money was being stolen, McGurk was confronted and he admitted initially he had taken £50,000 and was escorted off the premises.
The judge said the thefts continued for years and one wondered when, if ever, the defendant would have stopped taking the money which was only noticed because of the alertness of an incoming managing director.
The judge said McGurk was highly regarded for his excellence in GAA football and had been a member of the Sam Maguire Cup-winning Derry team when he brought a lot of joy to many people and was the Man of the Match and was made a GAA Allstar.
The judge noted McGurk was not able to make recompense to the firm, but £3,000 of winnings McGurk made at Fairyhouse racecourse, and found in a company filing cabinet was ordered to be given to the firm.