The ATM gang that wreaked havoc in three counties in late 2018 and much of 2019 thought it was about to have another big payday when it entered the town of Virginia, Co Cavan.

It was in the early hours of Wednesday morning on 14 August 2019 when the cross-border gang, made up of thieves from north Monaghan and south Armagh, entered the town.

At that hour, Virginia seemed quiet, or so the gang thought.

The excavating machine that the gang planned to use to rip out an ATM was stolen at 2:15am from a construction site in the town.

The 14-tonne machine was then driven 800 metres towards the ATM housed in the wall of the Riverfront Hotel.

CCTV footage of that night has been obtained by Prime Time.

The footage, from a number of cameras in Virginia, shows the excavator being driven down the main street with a Toyota Landcruiser following behind, towing a low-trailer.

During one theft in Kells, the gang stole two ATMs in just four minutes.

The gang’s plan was to use the excavator to rip the digger from the wall and place it on the trailer, abandon the excavator at the scene, and speed off in the jeep with thousands of euro within the ATM. Six similar successful ATM thefts had already been carried out in a number of counties.

For nine months, gardaí had been searching for the gang that had targeted Bank or Ireland and AIB ATMs in towns in the north-east.

The Special Criminal Court would later describe as "eye-watering" the amount of money taken in such robberies. It’s estimated that almost €800,000 was taken in total.

The town of Ballybay in Co Monaghan was hit in December 2018, with one ATM stolen there.

Kingscourt in Co Cavan was hit in March of the following year. In early April 2019, Castleblayney was targeted.

The exclusive CCTV footage shown here shows how an excavator was unloaded from a trailer directly in front of the ATM.

The driver pushed past fencing on the street and showed skill and precision in lining up the bucket of the JCB and violently striking the wall in a manner that sees the full force of the weight of the excavator deployed.

The excavator rocks back and forth, such is the power being used to break brick and concrete and scoop the ATM into the bucket of the excavator.

We need your consent to load this comcast-player contentWe use comcast-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Two weeks later, members of the gang struck in Co Meath – this time stealing two ATMs in Kells in a crime that was carried out in just four minutes.

Part of that crime involved a set of "stinger" spikes being placed across the road by the gang to hinder any garda pursuit.

By that time, a major garda operation was underway to seek to identify who the members of the gang might be, and where they might strike next.

Any major garda operation has an objective to catch criminals in the act. As one detective told Prime Time, "criminals have to be lucky all the time, [the Gardaí] just have to be lucky once."

By mid-2019, a massive investigation was underway, involving members of the National Surveillance Unit and local detectives in border counties.

The modus operandi of the gang showed at least one of the gang had skill in operating an excavator.

The gang was fast, and, by virtue of their escapes from December 2018 to April 2019, had good local knowledge of roads in that part of the country.

The total amount of cash recovered by gardaí was over €420,000

One or more of the gang was very likely from one of the counties that had been targeted.

In recent cases before the Special Criminal Court, evidence was heard of how members of the National Surveillance Unit (NSU) were on the ground in Virginia on the night the gang was finally rumbled.

Members of the NSU gave identification evidence relating to the gang. These officers are never identified publicly, such is the nature of their work.

Also in Virginia that night, hidden until they sprang into action shortly after 2:15am, were members of the Garda Emergency Response Unit.

Recent court cases did not reveal how gardaí came to be so ready in Virginia that night – but ready they were.

Exclusive CCTV footage shown here for the first time publicly captures the moments it all started to fall apart for the ATM gang.

The gang’s intended target, the ATM at the Riverfront Hotel, was located almost directly across the road from the town’s Garda station.

But such was the brazenness of the gang, they thought there was no Garda presence in the town in the early hours of that Wednesday morning. Quite simply, they were wrong.

We need your consent to load this comcast-player contentWe use comcast-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

This footage shows how the excavator was overtaken by the jeep as it approached the intended target.

The excavator turned right and approached the ATM as it got ready to rip the machine and its cash from the wall.

For eight seconds, nothing happens – but a lot is about to happen.

A vehicle arrived and came to a halt, shortly before two jeeps suddenly pass by that vehicle at speed. Members of the Garda Emergency Response Unit had sprung into action. Just out of frame on the CCTV footage is a garda jeep, which rammed into the gang’s stolen Landcruiser jeep.

The gang member who was driving the excavator and the two criminals in the jeep all fled the scene.

One of the three – Gerard Duffy, 31, of Greagh, Loughnamore, Co Monaghan – was soon caught in a nearby field.

The gang targeted an ATM in front of Virginia's Riverfront Hotel

Hours later, his brother Ciarán, 29, was caught still hiding out in Virginia – ironically caught after running into the toilets of the hotel that housed the ATM.

The two brothers would later be jailed for seven years and nine months.

The third member of the gang in Virginia that night was later identified as Daniel O’Callaghan, 31, of Monog Road, Crossmaglen, in South Armagh.

Evidence against O’Callaghan included testimony from a member of the Garda National Surveillance Unit who was on the ground in Virginia that night.

O’Callaghan was the only one of five men charged in the follow-up investigation not to plead guilty. Last Monday, he was jailed for 10 years.

A follow-up investigation led gardaí to a premises at Tullypole, Moynalty, Co Meath. There, detectives found some of the fruits of the gang’s illegal labour: cash in black bags, cash hidden above ground, and cash hidden underground.

In further searches, gardaí found cash in a car, and even found cash in the grass box of a ride-on lawnmower.

Among the items recovered by gardaí was a cash-counting machine

Stephen Duffy, an older brother of Gerard and Ciarán, pleaded guilty to handling cash at Tullypole and was given a four-year sentence.

The oldest of the five to be jailed was 39-year-old Niall Finnegan of Cherry Grove, Cullyhanna in Co Armagh, who also admitted to handling cash at Tullypole. He was given a three-year sentence.

The total amount of cash recovered by gardaí was over €420,000. Such was the scale of the money taken in the raids on ATMs in late 2018 and 2019 that among the items recovered by gardaí at Tullypole in Co Meath was a cash-counting machine.

Standing on the Main Street in Virginia, Chief Superintendent Alan McGovern told Prime Time that Gardaí knew the importance of bringing this particular gang to justice.

"This was an intelligence-led operation that involved local, regional and national units," he said.

Chief Supt McGovern thanks the community for their patience and support.

"These crimes are devastating for the community, not only for the citizens that are using the ATM machines, but also for the business community, many of whom find it very difficult to recover from these ATM thefts."