Aogan Ó Fearghail allays fears of doping culture in GAA

GAA President Aogan Ó Fearghail is confident that the association is not at risk from drugs cheats despite revelations that a Monaghan player has reportedly tested positive for steroids.

The unnamed player was described by the Gaelic Players Association as a ‘trial panellist’ with the Farney County, as it emerged that he is under investigation by the GAA’s Anti-Doping Hearings Committee following an adverse finding in an out-of-competition test in February.

The Irish Sports Council informed Croke Park of the findings and one ISC board member, ex-Tipperary hurling boss Liam Sheedy, insisted yesterday that there must be consequences “if someone’s crossed the line”.

Ó Fearghail, speaking on RTÉ Radio’s championship launch, said: “I understand it is an ongoing process.

“There are allegations that I’m aware of and there are procedures. We work very closely with the Irish Sports Council and cooperate with them fully with training and matches.

“The main thing that I think about is our players are volunteers, whether they play for their counties or clubs.

“There’s no personal gain for the GAA player, they play for the love of the game and it would be wrong of us to make a judgment.”

Ó Fearghail accepted that in a highly competitive inter-county environment, players will do whatever is necessary to attain success.

But he insisted: “It would be unfair to discuss and use the word ‘cheat’.

“Players will do whatever they have to do to train and win but they will generally do it within the rules of the game as best they can.”

The GPA confirmed that while the player, in his 20s, is not a member of their association, “personal and professional support is being provided”.

But Sheedy insisted: “Ultimately we all need to operate in clean sports. I’ve had situations being involved as a manager but the tester comes, you do your test and they move away.

“If someone’s crossed the line, there has to be penalties. I think it’s really important, and never more important in sport, that we can always put our hands up and say that we’re an absolutely clean sport.”

He added: “I certainly wouldn’t like any of my team to be claiming an edge by taking supplements or anything like that.

“We always need to ensure, whether it’s professional or amateur sport, that any sport is operating in a true sporting manner and that’s why I think it’s really, really important to ensure that the behaviours we have embedded stay, in whatever form. I know it’s really difficult on players to be there, four hours waiting (to provide a post-match sample) but ultimately we have to make sure that we can say that the GAA is run through a real high standard and is 100% clean.”

Kilkenny’s 10-time All-Ireland SHC medallist Henry Shefflin was also present at Carrolls Hotel in Knocktopher for the RTÉ launch.

And he reflected: “I think the educational piece is missing, especially the younger members that come on panels.

“They’re in and it’s such a novelty.

“I’m so used to the doctor, the dietician, I had a very good relationship with them and I can pick up the phone (if I have any concerns or queries).

“A lot of younger players wouldn’t be able to do that. The educational side is important to get across to them. I do think it’s important that it (testing) is there. We all know ourselves that it’s fairly clean so there is no issue. But it is important.”

And Shefflin doesn’t believe that doping is an issue within the GAA.

He said: “I wouldn’t feel it’s a problem. There is going to be a case or two, that happens in every sport. I don’t know enough about the facts to speak about that. But I’d be very comfortable that the sport is clean.”

Shefflin revealed that he was tested twice before after matches and that it can be frustrating for a dehydrated player when he is unable to provide a sample shortly after the final whistle.

He explained: “I’ve no problem with the in-training testing because they come, you’ve a chance to get hydrated, you’re around your locality, you know what’s going to happen so you can drink plenty of fluids during training.

“For matches, there is pre-match nerves (and) after the match can be frustrating. You play a big match and the next thing you’re cordoned off. The lads are gone back to the hotel. You’re there and whether you win or lose, there are different emotions.

“You’re stuck on your own. The match one is a bit difficult on amateur players.”

The ISC conducted 1,054 tests on Irish athletes in 2014, including 279 blood tests.

Those blood testing figures were up 31% on the previous year and the world anti-doping code is implemented through the ISC’s own anti-doping rules.

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