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Judge had to walk fine line in sentencing Limerick hurling star Kyle Hayes

Hurler’s actions could have easily attracted a prison term in spite of his glowing character references and stellar sporting career

Judge Dermot Sheehan faced a tricky job when sentencing Limerick hurling star Kyle Hayes on Wednesday for his role in a violent nightclub attack four years ago.

Imposing an entirely non-custodial sentence would surely draw accusations of undue leniency, particularly in light of his sporting successes referenced in mitigation at the sentencing hearing.

The hurler’s actions on the night in question were those of a thug. He asked the victim Cillian McCarthy “do you know who the f**k I am” before launching his unprovoked attack. The violence continued outside even as Mr McCarthy tried to get away and Hayes had to be pulled away from kicking another man in the head.

Hayes later denied any wrongdoing and said he couldn’t remember the events of the night, although he was well able to remember the details of the hurling match he played earlier that day.


The facts of the case could easily have justified a prison sentence. On the other hand, though he was convicted of violent disorder, Hayes was acquitted of assault causing harm to Mr McCarthy.

Judge Sheehan’s view was that while Hayes’ actions led to the assault on Mr McCarthy outside the nightclub and the resulting injuries, he was not the person who delivered the most serious blows.

Violent disorder is a serious crime, punishable by up to 10 years. But, as the judge noted, it does not automatically carry a prison term.

Furthermore, in terms of character, Hayes had almost perfect mitigation even when his sporting successes are ignored. Various testimonials from employers, teachers and mentors spoke to his work ethic, good character and charity work. Most importantly, he had no other convictions, the court heard.

One major black mark against Hayes was his initial plea of not guilty. This meant he missed out on the mitigation offered by an early guilty plea, something which can mean the difference between prison and freedom.

The unusual nature of the verdict also complicated matters for the judge. The court heard evidence of Hayes launching “swinging kicks” at the head of a man outside the nightclub. But, for unknown reasons, Hayes was not charged with this assault; he was charged with assaulting Mr McCarthy.

As a result, the jury had little choice but to acquit Hayes on the assault charge and the judge was limited in how much he could take his actions outside the nightclub into account when sentencing.

In passing sentence, Judge Sheehan attempted to walk a fine line by imposing a prison term but suspending it on condition Hayes pays €10,000 to Mr McCarthy.

The judge indicated these intentions early in the sentencing hearing on Wednesday when he asked the lawyers if they had any issues with his interpretation of the rules around compensation.

This no doubt put Hayes at ease. However, signs of worry could be seen on the young man’s face when later in the hearing, Judge Sheehan commented on the trauma suffered by Mr McCarthy in the aftermath of the assault.

Was the talk of compensation perhaps a feint by the judge? After all, following his conviction in December, Judge Sheehan warned Hayes he could “expect a custodial sentence”.

Hayes relaxed again moments later when the judge made it clear the custodial sentences he was considering would be suspended as long as he stays out of trouble.

With the case finally concluded, the 25 year old consulted his lawyers before walking briskly through the huddle of reporters into a waiting car.

But his legal troubles may not be over. It is still open to Mr McCarthy to take a civil action. That matter “is for another court on another day”, Judge Sheehan said.