A former Northern Ireland under-21 international footballer has been convicted of attacking a terrified law student during a drunken night out in Kent, leaving him with a broken nose and cheekbone.
Kevin Braniff, six years a striker with Millwall who played in the 2004 FA Cup Final, was in Maidstone, Kent, in February visiting a former team-mate when he got into a closing time fight at the town’s Strawberry Moons nightclub.
Prosecutor Alex Wilson told the court that Braniff (25) and two mates jeered at the innocent |student as he was about to leave the club, holding his girlfriend’s coat.
Maidstone Crown Court was told that one of Braniff’s gang chucked a jacket at their victim before the trio punched and kicked him to the ground when he stood up for himself.
Braniff, who now plays for Portadown, was handed a four-month suspended sentence and 120 hours’ community service, and was also ordered to pay £700 compensation to his victim.
The court was told that the victim was too frightened to go out for weeks after the attack and had to take time off university, where he was in the final year of a law degree.
During the hearing, Judge Philip Statman interrupted Braniff's barrister Olivia Magennis after she revealed how much the player had drunk on the night of the assault.
The judge commented: “I don’t understand how a professional footballer in February, which would be during the season, is out consuming 10 pints of alcohol when he is due to be in training for his next league game – unless there is a mid-season break in Northern Ireland I don’t know about?”
Miss Magennis said Braniff was ashamed of what he had done. She added that her client knew the seriousness of the situation.
On the night in question he had travelled from Northern Ireland to see an old team mate who was a friend and they went out socialising.
Braniff, she went on, did not kick the victim when he fell to the ground, but he did throw punches.
In passing sentence, the judge commented: “This is yet another example of mindless thuggery in the town centre, with you under the influence of a substantial amount of alcohol.
“I am satisfied in my own mind that your behaviour, under the influence of drink, was wholly out of character.”
However, the judge added: “It beggars belief that in the middle of the season you are out drinking 10 pints of alcohol. What you did to your victim is dreadful.
“No-one deserves to be set upon in this way. In future concentrate on playing football and not getting drunk.”
Meanwhile, the Belfast Telegraph understands that Braniff will be in the Portadown line-up tomorrow.
Nobody from Shamrock Park was available for comment yesterday, but sources close to the club said he would be in the squad to play in the home match against Donegal Celtic, after missing the midweek Championship tie at Loughgall on Tuesday night, which the Ports lost 1-0.