Alan Smith in action against Cork.
A crucial intervention in the sentencing of Alan Smith, the Sarsfields and former Kildare footballer, by Armagh footballing legend Oisin McConville played a role in the defendant avoiding prison.
Mr Smith was given a two and a half year suspended sentence at Naas Circuit Court today after he pleaded guilty to taking money from the account of a customer of Ulster Bank in 2015, where he worked at the time.
Mr Smith, 30, with an address listed as 1 Park Road, Baroda Court, Newbridge, was charged with theft after he took money from the account of an elderly customer.
Judge Michael O’Shea heard from prosecuting counsel Seoirse O Dulaing that the customer had approached Gardai about an entirely different matter that necessitated an investigation of her bank account. As a result, Gardai discovered that Mr Smith had, on six separate occasions across 2015, taken amounts ranging from €950 to €3,500 from her account. He was, at the time, an employee of Ulster Bank and had used his own username and password when doing so.
The court heard that Mr Smith admitted to the thefts when approached by an Ulster Bank internal investigator. He was relieved of his position at the bank. The woman and the bank have both been fully reimbursed.
Judge O’Shea was told that Mr Smith was in the throes of a gambling addiction at the time.
He has since then completed a residential addiction course at Smarmore Castle in Co Louth and continues to engage with aftercare and with Gamblers Anonymous three to four times a week.
Defence counsel Jim Kelly explained that Mr Smith had begun gambling when he was very young and had dropped out of a college in Carlow IT because he was spending too much time in betting shops, up to seven hours in a weekend. He was attending Carlow on a sports scholarship.
Counsel called Oisin McConville to give evidence. Mc McConville explained his own background as a gambling addict.
“I was 16 years an addict,” he told the court, “until I went into treatment the day before my 30th birthday on May 17, 2005." He said that during his time as an active gambler he had “burnt through huge sums of money”.
He is now an addiction counsellor and he told Judge O’Shea that high-performing sportspeople were twice as likely to be gambling addicts and that if the sport was a team sport, they were three times as likely.
He said he first met with Mr Smith in 2009 when it was clear the defendant had a gambling problem. However, it was only in more recent times, towards the end of 2016, that Mr Smith had come to accept that treatment of a gambling addiction does not end when you leave a rehabilitation facility, that engaging with aftercare services and Gamblers Anonymous meetings was necessary for the rest of their lives. Mr McConville now plays a role in Mr Smith’s treatment. He said he had seen a change in the defendant for the better and that he taken on a leadership role in his rehabilitation programme.
He said that part of the recovery process for any gambling addict was to try to live as normal a life as possible, “to learn to trust yourself again”. Mr McConville also spoke of the secrecy of the gambler’s life, the low self esteem and low self respect that goes with it.
Former Armagh footballer Oisin McConville has tackled his gambling problems, and helps others do the same
When Judge O’Shea asked him to address the issue of the fact that the victim was an 80 year old woman, Mr McConville answered honestly that gambling addiction is a “progressive condition” where the addict tries to get their hands on ever greater amounts of money to feed the habit. He said that they are not thinking about the victims.
Mr Kelly explained that Mr Smith has since begun working again and his employers speak highly of his work and his demeanour.
Judge O’Shea was impressed with the defendant’s progress in tackling his addiction and in compensating the injured party. He also noted that he had admitted to the offence when approached by the internal investigator, and his guilty plea.
However, he said that the defendant was in a position of trust within Ulster Bank and to the elderly customer whose money he took. He said he believed he wouldn’t get caught because the customer would not check her account too often.
However, he was very impressed with the testimony of Mr McConville. “I don’t wish to embarrass him but he was an outstanding footballer for club and county,” the judge said.
He sentenced Mr Smith to two terms of two and a half years in prison, both to run concurrently. He suspended both prison terms on the basis that Mr Smith was bound to the peace and be of good behaviour. And he urged the defendant to continue his recovery by attending Gamblers Anonymous and aftercare services.