Belfast Telegraph

School rugby captain convicted of assault on rival during game

By Ashleigh McDonald

The captain of a school rugby team who assaulted another player during a match has received a conditional discharge.

Robert O'Callaghan (20) was leading Carrick Grammar through the third round of the Schools Cup match against Belfast Royal Academy (BRA) when the incident happened.

The on-pitch assault, which occurred after a tackle on January 30, 2013, left the injured BRA schoolboy, Angelo Onang, requiring surgery for a partially detached retina and suffered permanent eye damage.

Appearing in the dock of Belfast Crown Court yesterday, O'Callaghan, from Sunnylands Avenue in Carrickfergus, 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.

He told how O'Callaghan "came together" with the opposing 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".

He added that "what happened fell outside the course of the game and amounted to an assault".

The Crown lawyer submitted 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 maintained the incident on the pitch had been accidental.

Commenting on the victim's facial injury, the prosecutor said it was a "significant eye injury".

He said his cornea had been bruised and that a partial detachment of the cornea had required surgery.

The court heard the young man also now wears glasses as a result of the incident.

It emerged that the referee had not witnessed the incident, O'Callaghan wasn't sent off and no further action was taken within rubgy circles.

However, following an internal investigation, O'Callaghan was excluded from school rugby for the rest of the term.

A defence barrister said his client, who was 18 at the time, had no 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 said the principal of Carrick Grammar said he had never witnessed O'Callaghan being aggresive either on or off the pitch. It was the school head's view that it had been a "one-off incident".

Describing the match as "highly charged", O'Callaghan's barrister told the court his client "offers his apology for his actions".

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

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

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