JOHN FOGARTY: GAA must not allow complacency to derail anti-doping push

Colm O’Rourke is usually the safest pair of hands on The Sunday Game, but he crossed the line in an attempt to make a humorous point about the size of Kildare’s players a few weeks back.

Talking minutes before their Leinster semi-final with Dublin he said: “They’re fellas from the land of the giants, Sean Hurley, Paul Cribbin and Dave Hyland and fellas like this.

“I don’t know what they’re being fed down there but I saw the Meath U21s playing Kildare earlier in the year in Navan in the championship. Kildare have a superb U21 team but the thing that struck me when I saw them coming out was it was men against boys in terms of stature.

“He’s transplanted four of them into forwards [in the senior team]. I don’t know whether they were getting that stuff that [Mahmood] al-Zarooni had Godolphin horses on in England.”

Pat Spillane interjected — “Don’t go down that road, Colm. We don’t need that — a drugs scandal. Please” — but the damage had been done.

O’Rourke’s loose comments are the last thing a subject as serious as doping needs, but what was worse was casting aspersions, no matter how flippant, on Kildare was wholly inappropriate and the slight on the strength and conditioning work done by Julie Davis.

It’s 12 years since drug testing was introduced into inter-county GAA and apart from Aidan O’Mahony in 2008, who was later cleared as he had using salbutamol in an inhaler, no player has ever recorded a positive test.

However, the widespread use of supplements in top level Gaelic football and hurling aren’t recommended by the Irish Sports Council. On their website, they state three reasons, one of them based on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) principle of liability that elite athletes are opening up the possibility of inadvertent positive tests by taking supplements.

Companies like Kinetica go through a series of checks and balances to ensure their products are above board.

However, what is being given to some players is not as transparent, according to Fermanagh captain Ryan McCluskey.

Speaking to this newspaper in March, he claimed there was steroid use in the GAA. “I have known and I kind of know to a certain extent that it has crept into the sport in certain areas.

“It’s something that players don’t know much about and I think everybody, including management and coaches as well, needs to keep an eye on it and know about it.

“In general, the game has become more physical and the athlete has changed with the whole kind of physicality that is needed in the game and players’ physiques have changed over the last number of years.

“But there’s a right way of doing it and a wrong way of doing it. For a short-term gain, there are long-term implications and that is something everybody needs to be very careful of.”

A couple of weeks back, Donegal captain Michael Murphy admitted he has yet to be drug tested despite being in his seventh championship year.

Compare that to Kilkenny’s Jackie Tyrrell, who was tested in last year’s All-Ireland final and this May’s Division 1 final and the random testing looks, well, too random.

Murphy is open on the subject, revealing the Donegal panel use Kinetica products. “Whether it be the protein after the gym or whether it just the general carbohydrate recovery after a training session. Players find them definitely of benefit with training sessions and games coming thick and fast, it’s about trying to get the body right for the next one and trying to maximise results.”

He appears to be safe in the knowledge that what they are taking falls within the parameters of what is legal, just as other counties who use supplements like Juice Plus.

But there is always trepidation for players about tests and the possibility of waiting hour upon hour to produce a urine sample after a game.

The stories of players missing buses or having to lock up grounds after training because they are so dehydrated are well known.

Regardless of their amateur status, the expert level of preparation now dictates elite Gaelic players should be subject to rigorous testing. Consideration should be given to the fact they are professional in everything but name, but not to the extent that they are given special exemptions.

But even Murphy intimates not everybody is playing by the rules. “If there is always a suspicion out there, there will always be a fear. I think most players, the large majority — virtually everybody — is abiding by the rules.”

Nothing to do with the Tour de France but drug testing is the topic du jour because of sprinter Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell’s positive results.

As Gay’s former training partner David Gillick said earlier this week, taking drugs is not necessarily aimed at running faster but training harder. On that point, Mayo’s Alan Dillon made a valid suggestion two years ago that more tests should be carried out at training sessions instead of post-match.

The testing record of inter-county players is clean as it is proud but when some of them are going as far as to indicate there is something amiss vigilance should be high.


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