Confirmation that a GAA player has tested positive for a banned substance was inevitable, according to Gaelic Players Association (GPA) chief executive Dessie Farrell.
The unnamed player’s case is currently being dealt with by the GAA’s own Anti-Doping Hearings Committee following an adverse out-of-competition finding from a test undertaken in February.
The law of averages dictated this day would come, but Farrell insisted there is no culture of doping in Gaelic games even if younger players and those on the fringes of county panels may be somewhat more at risk than their more established counterparts. Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash, speaking at the same launch of the official new GAA ‘Cul Heroes’ trading cards, backed up Farrell’s claim that the use of illegal drugs was not something that should be deemed a clear and present danger.
“It’s not an issue in the GAA,” said Nash. “At all. It’s not an issue.”
Farrell, whose organisation is providing support for the player in question, expressed disappointment that word of the failed test, said to have been by a trial inter-county panellist, had been made public while the process is ongoing.
The GAA provides a comprehensive educational remit on anti-doping for inter-county players — one praised yesterday by Nash — but Farrell accepted the sheer volume and turnover of players may mean the message doesn’t always get through.
Approximately 2,000 inter-county players play football and hurling per year and Farrell accepted that those new to the scene — as is said to have been the case on this occasion — are more at risk of falling foul of the law.
“In some ways, it is quite remarkable that it has taken this long,” said Farrell of the failed test. “Una May (of the Irish Sports Council’s anti-doping unit) said herself that the GAA was a low-risk category and I think that was very valid.”
Even so, it now seems as if GAA players will be introduced to the extra layer of blood testing as of next year and Nash, for one, is happy to go along with that as long as players are kept informed as to procedures and other necessary information.
“The best thing you can do as a panel is be educated on it and hope that it doesn’t happen in your own panel,” he said. “Regarding the blood testing, I don’t know what we will have to do yet or whether it is at training or on-season, off-season. If they feel it is the best thing for the game then that is the way it is going.”
Nash has himself been tested twice before, both times after training and considers himself lucky that, on being informed of the test on arrival, he was able to hydrate and complete the process quickly enough.
Some players, most notably post-match, have taken hours to produce samples and Nash at least saw the funny side of what could be a stressful situation when describing what it was like in such a surreal circumstance.
“It’s like walking through an airport and thinking ‘what have I got in my bag?’ when you know you have nothing in your bag,” he laughed. “You are nervous, that is just human nature.”
Whatever the pros and cons, there is a human side to anti-doping which should not be forgotten and particularly so for anyone found to have contravened the anti-doping code after tests and subsequent investigations.
“You have to understand that, if it ever did happen, it’s a player’s reputation, which is tough,” said Nash. “If I go out and play badly next Sunday or whatever my family are picking up the papers. My family are the people that I would worry about. I wouldn’t care. I don’t read the papers because a pat in the back is only …. If an incident happens where a player makes a mistake then, okay, it is not only his reputation as a GAA player which is on the line.
“It’s his (wider) reputation and that is something I don’t want to see. I don’t care if it is was a player I was playing with or against. As long as the GPA and GAA let us know if there is anything out there that can help us then I am happy enough.”
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