A JUDGE has said he has â€œno doubtâ€ a Limerick man who threw a banana at Manchester Cityâ€™s Gael Clichy during a soccer friendly at Thomond Park knew what he was doing and that the incident had been racially motivated.
The Premier League champions were entitled to the generous welcome teams visiting Limerick traditionally got, Judge Eugene Oâ€™Kelly said in respect of 20-year-old Kelvin Reynolds, who admitted a public order offence arising from the incident on August 5, 2012.
â€œThey must have been shocked by this, the lowest racial taunt - and short of your client going on to the pitch behaving like a monkey, there is no taunt lower,â€ Judge Oâ€™Kelly told solicitor Sara Ryan.
Reynolds, of Pinewood Avenue, Caherdavin, pleaded guilty to abusive behaviour but insisted his actions were not motivated by racism.
Sgt Donal Cronin outlined that shortly before half-time in Limerick FCâ€™s glamour friendly against the English champions, a banana had been thrown on to the pitch landing near Gael Clichy.
Gardai viewed CCTV footage of the incident and called to Reynoldsâ€™ home on August 19. The accused volunteered to go to Mayorstone garda station to be interviewed.
He told gardai that he had thrown the banana but â€œnot as a racist gestureâ€, Ms Ryan said. He had been handed the banana by a child but told gardai that â€œif I had an apple or an orange, I would have thrown that as wellâ€.
That Clichy was black had nothing to do with the incident, Reynolds told gardai. â€œIf Nasri was there, I would have thrown it as well,â€ he said in relation to another French international playing for City.
Ms Ryan told Judge Oâ€™Kelly that Reynolds had gone to the garda station to have the matter dealt with as the incident had attracted a lot of negative publicity.
While Gael Clichy had taken to social media with his interpretation that the incident was racially motivated, Reynolds would insist that was not the case.
â€œI didnâ€™t mean it in a racial way, I was a bit drunk and I didnâ€™t know what I was doing,â€ Reynolds said in the witness box, adding he wanted to â€œapologise to people of Limerick and the Limerick City teamâ€.
â€œIâ€™m more concerned at the upset you caused Mr Clichy,â€ replied Judge Oâ€™Kelly.
Ms Ryan said that Reynolds played soccer himself while a younger brother had had trials with Manchester United and would travel to London this summer to try out for Charlton Athletic.
â€œI find it extremely hard to dispute Mr Clichyâ€™s interpretation of the incident as one that was racially motivated,â€ Judge Oâ€™Kelly said.
â€œOf all fruit, it seems an extraordinary coincidence that he could have secured a banana from a child.â€
The judge found it hard to believe that as a soccer fan, Reynolds could claim to have no understanding of the racial implications of a banana, a fruit which the judge said was banned from many English soccer grounds.
He expected that, as an Irishman, Reynolds would â€œtake the same umbrage Mr Clichy didâ€ if he heard the anti-Irish Famine Song chanted at Scottish grounds.
Limerick was â€œa fine city that has had its reputation tarnished for years over incessant feuding and gang warfareâ€ resulting in the Stab City nickname, Judge Oâ€™Kelly said.
He was encouraged to see state pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy comment this week that Limerick no longer deserved that moniker, something Reynolds himself had â€œin some ways contributed toâ€ by having possession of a knife among his 65 previous convictions.
â€œBut even in the darkest days, there was one beacon of light in the welcome extended by the city to visiting teams,â€ the judge said.
â€œI believe he has done extraordinary damage to the reputation of Limerick and his contrite address was not particularly focused on the upset he caused to Mr Clichy.â€
He would have â€œno hesitationâ€ in sending Reynolds to prison â€œwere it not for the punishment other prisoners in Limerick might extract for having sullied and mired the reputation of the cityâ€.
Judge Oâ€™Kelly sought a suitability report from the Probation Service for 60 hours community service in lieu of three months in prison in relation to the public order offence.
Reynolds faces a further 180 hours community service for assaulting Garda Caimin Treacy by throwing a plastic bottle at the officer as he attempted to remove another male at the match.
Judge Oâ€™Kelly indicated it would be appropriate if the community service could be done to benefit the immigrant community in Limerick.