A former All-Ireland GAA winner who gambled away over half a million pounds he had stolen from his employer in a bid to recreate the buzz he got from his Croke Park success has been sentenced for 30 months.
John (Johnny) Malachy McGurk won the All-Ireland with Derry in 1993 but years later became a gambling addict and then a thief while an accountant for one of Northern Ireland’s best-known construction firms.
Antrim Crown Court had heard that the thefts by the former GAA star, from Drummuck Road near Maghera, brought the family-run quarry and tarmac firm of Patrick Bradley Ltd of Kilrea to the verge of bankruptcy.
In all the 50-year-old company accountant pleaded guilty to the theft of £572,206 from Bradley’s and 34 other charges involving fraud by abuse of his position of trust from July 2006 until the end of 2011.
Passing sentence Judge Desmond Marrinan said McGurk later told experts he was placing single bets of up to £3,000 a time and the thrill of the wins was “like playing football again”.
However, he told McGurk he had “almost wrecked” the firm and for a long time it had been at risk of financial collapse. The judge said like many top-level sports stars, after his playing days ended, it appeared the “excitement and the thrill one gets out of playing at the very highest level needed to be replaced with something” and McGurk became a gambling addict.
Imposing the custody/licence sentence, he added that normally there would be a 50/50 split, but in this case he ordered McGurk serve 10 months without remission, in the hope he would come out of prison “chastened”, followed by 20 months licensed supervision to help “kill off this addiction”.