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GAA coach who attacked referee ordered by court to keep the peace

Prime Time has learned that a GAA coach who attacked a referee in an altercation that left the referee unconscious has been bound by a court to keep the peace for two years, avoiding imprisonment.

James Kenny (40) attacked Kevin Naughton, an experienced referee, during an under-17 football game at Ballyforan, Co Roscommon on 31 August 2022.

Mr Kenny was convicted of one charge of assault causing harm to Mr Naughton at a hearing of Roscommon Circuit Court in December 2023, but the outcome of the case was not reported in the media.

Prime Time understands that there were no journalists present in the courtroom at the time.

A video of the incident went viral on social media in the hours and days after it took place. It showed Mr Kenny’s approach from the sideline towards the referee as well as the aftermath of assault, in which Mr Naughton is seen lying unconscious on the ground. The moment of the assault was not shown.

At the hearing on 6 December, Judge Kenneth Connolly convicted Mr Kenny or one count of assault causing harm and in his written order said that Mr Kenny must be “bound to the People of Ireland in the sum of €100, the conditions being that he will keep the peace and be of good behaviour towards all the people of Ireland for a period of two years.”

Should Mr Kenny fail to keep the peace he will be brought back to court and a sentence will be imposed for the August 2022 assault, according to the order. The order does not specify what any such sentence may be.

Before the case was elevated to the Circuit Court, Mr Kenny came before Judge James Faughnan at Ballinasloe District Court in June charged with assault.

As previously reported by RTÉ, Judge Faughnan described footage of the incident as “quite shocking.”

Kevin Naughton told the court that he suffered anxiety after the attack and that he had lost interest in the GAA. He also told the court that he was unable to move in the immediate aftermath of the incident and was taken by ambulance to Portiuncula Hospital. He suffered neck and soft tissue injuries and was also receiving counselling.

Judge Faughnan did not accept jurisdiction in the case, causing it to be sent to the Circuit Court.

Mr Kenny declined to comment on Tuesday when contacted by Prime Time. A committee member at the St Aidan’s club in Roscommon told Prime Time that Mr Kenny was issued with a 96-week GAA ban that prevents him from any involvement in GAA coaching, and from attending games, including those at St Aidan’s.

The GAA said it would not comment on an individual case, but in a statement, it noted that at its annual congress last year suspensions were increased “for any type of assault on a match official from a minimum of 48 to 96 weeks and disqualification of a team, where appropriate.”

It also noted that there is “no upper limit to the suspension that can be imposed.”

The GAA also said it has campaigned to foster “a culture of respect towards all of those involved in our games” and last year organised an online campaign with the Gaelic Players Assocation called ‘In Their Boots’ aimed at promoting respect for match officials, players and administrators on social media.

It added that it is finalising a ‘Referee Resilience and Mental Wellbeing Programme,’ which will be made available to referees at all levels this year. 

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