Soccer coach Sean Connor pictured outside Donegal Court. (North West Newspix).
A well-known sports coach in the north west has had a five months jail sentence for motoring offences overturned on appeal to Donegal Circuit Court.
Former Sligo Rovers, Galway United, Bohemians and Killybegs GAA coach, Sean Connor, Roshine, Killybegs did not appeal against a six years driving ban imposed at an earlier district court sitting.
The defendant had been found driving a Northern Ireland registered vehicle on three occasions, in late 2015 and early 2016, with no licence or insurance and was jailed for a total of five months at Glenties District Court on January 25 2017.
Two of those offences were committed in the space of 11 days.
Defence counsel Peter Nolan BL told the court that the only matter they were appealing was the five months prison sentence that had been imposed at Glenties District Court for offences on March 1 and March 12, 2016 in Ardara for having no licence or insurance.
The 49-year-old had pleaded guilty to driving without insurance or driving licence on three occasions, on November 28, 2015 in Ardara and for similar offences on March 1 and March 12, 2016 in Ardara.
Connor’s car was seized on March 1 and March 12.
He told the gardaí on all occasions that he believed he was allowed to drive because he was using a Northern Ireland licence.
The court was told at the Glenties sitting that Sean Connor had driven with children in his car while already banned from driving.
The defendant told yesterday's court in Donegal Town he had a previous conviction for driving with no insurance or licence in 2010 because he was driving a vehicle on behalf of Galway United, a club he had been managing.
He thought the club, which was then run by a Mr Gleeson, formerly of Berings Bank, had his vehicle covered.
But the club subsequently went bust and the insurance on his vehicle was not paid and he was not aware of the situation.
The defendant said he had been a football manager since 2007 and had worked in the UK and in England.
He told the court that when stopped in Ardara on November 28, 2015, he had just come back from South Africa where he was owed $90,000.
He had a long career in management and had signed Irish International soccer captain Seamie Coleman for Sligo Rovers.
He was driving a vehicle for a cross border soccer club called Maiden City Soccer and was working as a volunteer.
He said he checked that he was a named driver in the North of Ireland on the policy and thought this covered him in the south.
The defendant told the court he spent a lot of time in and around Killybegs as his ex-partner and son were there.
He said he now accepted that he was wrong on all three occasions in November 2015 and March 2016.
The defendant agreed that he was looking down the barrel of a jail sentence, with his defence counsel Mr. Nolan BL.
The defendant said that at the time of the offence he was unemployed and was doing a lot of coaching in GAA and soccer in Killybegs on a voluntary basis.
He had since completed a BSc in Sport Coaching from the University of Ulster.
Mr. Nolan BL quipped that this might be a mitigating factor in itself.
Judge John Aylmer replied that he did not have much interest in soccer.
The defendant said he now understood that he should not have been driving. He accepted that it was “very stupid”.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing,” he said.
“I can’t believe how stupid I was”.
Mr. Nolan BL produced a raft of testimonials that attested to his client's voluntary work in Killybegs, St Mary’s Brollagh Belleek, from Derry and from Cllr. Niamh Kennedy and Deputy Thomas Pringle, as well as the Donegal Fire Service.
Mr Nolan BL said it was important to note that a letter from Maiden City Soccer believed that the defendant was entitled to drive their vehicle.
The defendant apologised to the court, understood that he was banned from driving for six years and was not appealing this which would bring its own punishment.
He had learned his lesson and wanted to proceed with his education and is a productive member of society.
Judge Aylmer said the defendant was otherwise a man of impeccable character as was clear from the amount of testimonials.
The judge said he had a doubt as to whether the defendant did not believe he was entitled to drive the vehicle and the defendant was to get the benefit of that doubt.
“It may be that he believed himself to be insured and it would be an incredibly stupid thing for a person like Mr Connor to believe that that he could drive flagrantly”.
The judge said he was also taking into account all the good work Mr Connor did for soccer on a voluntary basis.
And the existing driving ban was enough punishment and would affect his chances of employment.
The judge then removed the five months prison sentence for driving with no licence or insurance at Glenties Court in January 2017.