Belfast Telegraph

Jay Donnelly: Talented player whose reputation is permanently blackened by off-field actions

Jay Donnelly
Jay Donnelly

By Steven Beacom

Jay Donnelly started the football season scoring an injury-time winner for Cliftonville away to Glentoran.

He will end it in jail. Yesterday, Donnelly had his sentence for distributing an indecent image of a child reduced from four months to three.

In June 2016 the Cliftonville player, who turns 24 today, took a photograph of a 16-year-old girl while they were having sex.

The image was shared with other players on a WhatsApp messaging group before going viral, resulting in the victim suffering taunts and abuse when she was out.

Donnelly admitted the charge in November and in January was sentenced to four months before yesterday's appeal led to a decrease in the jail term.

In a statement, Donnelly apologised to his victim for his actions adding he hoped that the outcome provided "a degree of closure that allows her to move on with her life".

The Irish FA, football's governing body in Northern Ireland, set the correct tone stating: "The safeguarding of children remains the highest priority of the Association and our sympathy is with the victim and her family in this case."

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They also pointed out they will consider if Donnelly has brought the game into disrepute.

Expect outrage inside and outside football circles if the powers-that-be don't issue a lengthy ban to the player whose club say they will now follow their "disciplinary procedures", adding that they recognised "the impact that this had on the victim and her family", condemning "such actions without question".

Cliftonville has been criticised for not sacking Donnelly since the case started.

It is understood influential figures at the north Belfast club feel, now that it is finished, the time has come to cut their ties with the player. He is viewed as one of Cliftonville's best performers but insiders suggest key board members have had enough.

For Donnelly that would be a blow.

He is a product of the club's youth system, making his debut as a teenager in 2014 and progressing to establish himself as a first-team regular.

Last season the talented playmaker netted 25 goals, helping Cliftonville reach the Irish Cup final and qualify for Europe.

He began this season on fire scoring that late goal against Glentoran and at times outshone Joe Gormley, the club's greatest ever goalscorer, and his older brother Rory, who was once signed by Brendan Rodgers at Swansea.

Savouring the chance to play for Cliftonville, it looked as though he would go to become a Solitude hero for years to come.

Now Donnelly is known across the country for his actions off the field which Judge David McFarland said yesterday "had a deep and lasting impact on the victim".

Will Donnelly return to Irish League football after he is released from prison?

Even allowing for his ability, top flight managers and board members will think long and hard about offering him a deal if he is no longer with Cliftonville.

Many won't want the negative publicity that Donnelly's presence would attract. There is also the issue of how his arrival would go down in a dressing room with other players or supporters.

Then there is Donnelly himself. Despite his love of football, will he want to return to a big Irish League club knowing what is likely to come his way from thousands of fans in the stands? Time will tell.

For now Donnelly must serve time in prison. As Judge McFarland said, a custodial sentence was appropriate, outlining the need for the case to act as a "deterrent" to others.

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