A former St Joseph’s GAA Club mentor has made history by becoming the first person to be jailed for attacking a referee during a GAA match. The incident occurred during a Junior Football Championship match against Our Lady’s Island, which McManus’ team lost by a point. After the final whistle, McManus entered the pitch and assaulted referee Michael Lannigan, causing harm. The court sentenced McManus to 18 months in jail, with the final 12 months suspended for the assault.
Although McManus had no prior convictions, many individuals in the local GAA community expressed their concerns about the severity of the sentence. However, Seamus Whelan, the Chairman of the Wexford GAA referees’ committee, believes that the punishment sends the right message that violence against match officials will not be tolerated. He stated that the referees he spoke to were happy with the outcome and feel more protected going forward. Whelan also noted that there are serious problems with referees being abused and that this case will help push those issues aside.
In an interview with The Wexford People at the time of the incident, McManus denied elbowing, punching, or headbutting Mr. Lannigan. He admitted to pushing him, causing him to fall over, but claimed that no damage was done. McManus also expressed remorse for his actions, stating that he was entirely in the wrong and sorry that it happened.
During the court proceedings, the judge was informed that Mr. Lannigan missed four weeks of work and found walking painful after being “struck to the back of the head with force” and suffering a “whiplash-style injury.” Reflecting on the case from a referee’s perspective, Whelan noted that Wexford GAA had been proactive in stamping out incidents of violence and abuse against officials.
Wexford GAA Chairperson Micheál Martin declined to comment on the specifics of the case. He stated that the GAA disciplinary process operates separately from the judicial process and that no further action would be taken from a GAA point of view. Martin noted that the GAA has been working to improve overall discipline at games, from under 7s to adults, and that this work was not solely in response to this particular incident.
It is worth noting that McManus had been given a 48-week ban by the GAA for his actions, which was the longest ban available under the rules at the time. Overall, the case highlights the importance of respecting match officials and the consequences of violent behavior during GAA matches.