A day before the GAA revealed players would be subject to blood as well as urine testing from this year on, footballers and hurlers had been informed by their representative body what was coming.
In Austin’s Bergstrom Airport as the All-Stars travelling party waited for a connecting flight to Newark, a hurler read out the details of the new anti-doping measures and sighed. His exasperation said it all. Professional in arm but not in hand.
A day later, Dublin’s Bernard Brogan was asked about the introduction of blood testing.
“Do I think there’s a need to go into blood testing? No. We’re amateur footballers, we’re proud of what we do. Do I think there’s going to be any abuse of that? I’d be surprised. To get blood tested is a bit aggressive. But, as I say, we’ll just kind of get on with whatever we do.
“We have nothing to hide. No one has anything to hide in the GAA. We’re a special sport. If that’s what they need to do to make themselves feel as if the sport is pure, that’s what has to be done.”
Brogan’s sentiment is genuine and would sum up most inter-county players’ thoughts. However, the more prominent GAA figures like Brogan extol the moral virtues of performers at the top level of Gaelic games the more they are opening themselves up to becoming hostages of fortune.
Remuneration may not be part of a player’s modus operandi but there are plenty in their support groups who are being paid for what they do and whose livelihoods depend on results. For the players, there is also the prestige and trappings that go with success. A heady cocktail if ever there was one.
At present, what inter-county Gaelic players are doing gives the Irish Sports Council’s anti-doping unit cause for concern. Almost every one of them is contravening the ISC’s advice to avoid the use of supplements (several now promote their product of choice on social media).
The ISC accept supplements like whey protein are legal and widely used but stress “elite athletes are opening up the possibility of inadvertent positive tests by taking supplements, given the World Anti-Doping Agency rule on strict liability”.
They also point out the inappropriateness for under-age players taking supplements that could impact on their physical development. Look at the minor and academy players coming through, particularly in football, and it’s obvious their girth is not built on chicken and pasta alone.
Three years ago, Fermanagh footballer Ryan McCluskey claimed steroids have been used in Gaelic games. “I’ve known and I kind of know to a certain extent it has crept into the sport in certain areas,” he said.
“It’s something players don’t know much about and I think everybody including management and coaches as well need to keep an eye on it and know about it.” Perhaps in keeping with the GAA’s habit of omerta, McCluskey wasn’t pushed to be a whistleblower. All the more reason why official vigilance has to be so high. The case in Monaghan last year illustrated McCluskey’s words should have been heeded.
One wonders, though, do the GAA fully appreciate what they are now asking of their players to comply with the anti-doping code and keep the good name of Gaelic games. The anecdotes of dehydrated players being held back for hours after games and matches as they struggled to provide urine samples are well-known and such tales of discomfort are sure to grow now that syringes are involved.
Necessary inconveniences as they may be, Croke Park should anticipate claims players are giving too much for too little in return.
The Government grant is tied to players making themselves available for testing but consideration in some way should be provided by the GAA be in the form of something like a contribution to a team holiday fund.
Blood testing in Gaelic games shouldn’t be interpreted as the latest example of professionalism by a thousand cuts but an obligation if people are to continue believing what they are seeing on the field of play.
The moment that perception of authenticity is challenged all the wholesomeness espoused about the games rings hollow. In the context of such piousness, elite Gaelic football and hurling would be viewed just as dimly as the grand charade that will be played out in Rio de Janeiro’s Estádio Olímpico João Havelange in August.
Gaelic games’ record is virtually spotless but it can never be too clean.
The Tommy Murphy Cup was only five years old when it was jettisoned eight years ago. Maybe he now prefers to be called Tom, Thomas or just T but not much has changed about the competition in the meantime.
The second tier competition was dying a slow death until the decision was taken at Congress to exclude the then nine Division 4 teams from the 2008 qualifiers and place them in the same pot.
That was enough to nail up the competition’s coffin, a point sure to be revisited when the vote takes place in Carlow next month, regardless of the lopsided qualifier results involving Division 4 teams that are quoted to support the motion.
To imply there should only be eight counties excluded from competing in the All-Ireland qualifiers is inaccurate. Clare manager Colm Collins, whose team currently hold their heads above water in Division 3, acknowledged that in this newspaper last Saturday week.
They, like fellow Division 3 sides Longford, Offaly and Tipperary, have never reached the All-Ireland quarter-final stages. Limerick have made it just the once. Ditto Cavan who reside in Division 2.
The league is not the precise barometer some make it out to be — for example, this year’s Division 1 is a weaker field than last season’s — but relatively speaking, it is a decent guideline. It’s generally accepted the standard of Division 2 is closer to Division 3 than it is to the top flight. If there is to be a ‘B’ championship, it should carry more teams.
Roughly speaking, Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Alan Kelly’s home place of Portroe in north Tipperary is a mere four kilometres from the Clare border that bisects Lough Derg. If anybody should appreciate the legitimacy of an established county boundary it is he.
His reasons for ordering a boundary appraisal obviously hadn’t GAA clubs in mind – “the review is clearly warranted given the significant overspill of population in each of these cases into another county,” he is quoted as saying last year – yet maybe they should have been considered before he committed himself to the project. After all, the word “community” is in his job title.
Socio-economic factors aside, threatening people’s sense of belonging is ill-advised as it is perilous.
Not surprisingly, the review has been postponed until after the General Election, a decision cloaked in political expediency as much as news of Kelly’s plans were revived last week. Opponents of Kelly’s Labour Party in the Athlone and south Kilkenny regions have been given quite the platform by what they term as a “land grab”.
Reports suggest Kelly had FAI chief executive John Delaney canvassing with him last week.
In 2009, former Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy, a fellow Portroe man, backed him in the European elections in a post-match TV interview. But Kelly’s boundary redesigns are cast-iron proof that there are occasions when politics and sport shouldn’t mix.