Schools’ Cup captain discharged over assault on opponent

Robert O'Callaghan was the captain of the Carrick Grammar rugby team in 2013 when the incident occurred
Robert O'Callaghan was the captain of the Carrick Grammar rugby team in 2013 when the incident occurred

A captain of a rugby team who assaulted an opposing player on the pitch during a Schools’ Cup match has been handed a conditional discharge.

The incident occurred on January 30, 2013 during the game between Carrick Grammar and Belfast Royal Academy.

The on-pitch assault, which occurred after a tackle, left the injured schoolboy requiring surgery for a partially detached retina.

Appearing in the dock of Belfast Crown Court was 20-year old Robert O’Callaghan, from Sunnylands Avenue in Carrickfergus, who pleaded guilty to a charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

A Crown prosecutor told Judge David McFarland that the assault occurred with around 10 minutes remaining in the game.

O’Callaghan – who was captain of the Carrick team – “came together” with the BRA player in a tackle, and in the aftermath of the tackle O’Callaghan got to his feet first.

The prosecutor said there was then a “stamp, kick or foot being caught”, adding it was the Crown’s case that “what happened fell outside the course of the game and amounted to an assault”.

The prosecutor also said there was “never any suggestion there was a deliberate intention to cause injury” but that O’Callaghan “was reckless as to the consequences”.

The court heard that when O’Callaghan was interviewed by police about the incident, he accepted he had been involved but made the case that what occurred on the pitch was accidental.

Regarding the facial injury caused to the opposing player, the prosecutor said it was a “significant eye injury” which included a bruise to the cornea and a partial detachment of the retina that required surgery. He also now wears glasses as a result of the incident.

It emerged that the referee during the match didn’t see the incident and O’Callaghan wasn’t sent off and no further action was taken within rugby circles.

However, following an internal investigation, O’Callaghan was not permitted to play rugby for the rest of the school term.

A defence barrister said his client, who was 18 at the time, came before the court with a completely clear criminal record.

He also revealed that since the incident, O’Callaghan was selected to play for the Ulster Under 20 squad and has trained with them in Belfast.

The defence barrister also said that having spoken to the principal of Carrick Grammar, he had never witnessed O’Callaghan being aggressive either on or off the pitch, and that in his view this was a “one-off incident”.

Branding the match as “highly charged”, the defence barrister told the court his client “offers his apology for his actions”.

Handing O’Callaghan a two-year conditional discharge, Judge McFarland said O’Callaghan’s plea reflected that he accepted he was reckless.

The judge said he also accepted that during rugby games, players can lose their temper.