Carlow manager Turlough O’Brien says there are ‘flaws’ in the GAA’s anti-doping education programme following the four-year ban received by his player Ray Walker.
Walker (35) tested positive for a banned substance, Meldonium, in February and was subsequently banned in April.
After accepting his suspension without appeal Walker insisted he had not received any official training or education on anti-doping between the time he rejoined the Carlow panel late last year and his February test.
O’Brien has given Walker his full backing after ‘unintentionally’ taking the banned substance and insists that he remains a part of the ‘Carlow GAA family’.
Inter-county players must complete formal online anti-doping education before 31 March annually to be eligible to receive a minimum of €1,000 in government support, but as Walker only rejoined the county panel for the 2020 season he was ineligible to apply for that grant until 2021 and says he had not completed the associated training. O’Brien thinks the education system for players must be improved to ensure all players are fully up to speed on the rules and regulations.
“The anti-doping education is provided every year, but there certainly are flaws in the whole system. The GAA need to look at it, there is no question about that,” said O’Brien.
“I think the players have to have the education completed by the 31st of March, but the National Football League is over at that stage. It doesn’t make sense that you are testing players and you haven’t had a chance to complete your training. Unfortunately, he failed his test and there is nothing we can do about it now at this stage.”
Walker was recalled to the Carlow squad for the first time since 2013 following some impressive form for his club O’Halloran’s in 2019, which saw him named the county’s intermediate player of the year. According to his county manager, Walker was ‘a breath of fresh air’ in the panel and had been a great example to younger players.
“Ray hadn’t played inter-county football for a few years. He came back in there and he was a breath of fresh air. He was great craic, he was very encouraging to younger lads, spoke very well in the dressing room and trained really, really well.
“He has failed a test and people tend to forget that this is a human being we are dealing with here. No one realises the effort that he had been putting in here for Carlow this season. He came back into the panel in November and he has been fantastic. The effort he put in was unreal. I was talking to a man he was working with. They were working in Glendalough, and once they’d get back as far as Castledermot he’d get out of the car and he’d run the last seven miles home.
“It is very, very devastating for the player himself. We feel very much for him. It was unintentional what happened. It is unfortunate at this stage in his life, he is not going to play football now again.” .
Walker left the Carlow squad when he was informed of his positive test on 30 March, and at that stage the GAA had called a halt to collective training for county squads due to the Covid-19 outbreak. As a result, the Carlow squad has not been able to deal with Walker’s ban as a collective, according to O’Brien.
“It was definitely a blow for the squad. It was. Unfortunately, it happened at the time that this whole lockdown happened, so we weren’t together. There was very little interaction among the squad as a result. Ray hasn’t had the opportunity really to get his side of the story out there. He was overwhelmed by it I suppose.
He found it pretty hard to deal with. That’s one of the sad things of it. You’d like to think that all our players are part of the Carlow GAA family there. Everybody would feel for him. It is just so difficult. It is probably the end of his career."