Wednesday 20 September 2017

Eamonn Sweeney: We don't need a lab to tell us GAA players are taking drugs

Lizzie Lee’s comments last week put the whining of young men about having to wait around after a game into some perspective. Photo: Sportsfile
Lizzie Lee’s comments last week put the whining of young men about having to wait around after a game into some perspective. Photo: Sportsfile

Eamonn Sweeney

There's an old saying that if you see a rat around your house it means you've got rats, and if you see rats it means you've got an infestation. Similarly, the GAA's third positive drugs test means it's fair to assume the Association has a doping problem.

Can we also assume that there was some behind-the-scenes agreement to keep quiet about the positive test result? Who knows? It looks like it from here given that the positive test recorded and the suspension incurred by Kerry's Brendan O'Sullivan would almost certainly have remained secret had John Greene not revealed them last week.

When Monaghan's Thomas Connolly was caught, there was much grá mo chroí stuff written about how easy it was for a player to test positive, sure he might only take a lemon drink for a cold and he'd be caught out. The identity of the substance Connolly was taking made a laugh out of such folksy explanations.

It didn't stop a few members of the Lemsip brigade from trying the same line last week, but the truth of the matter is that, by his own admission, O'Sullivan deliberately sought out and took something for the purpose of enhancing his performance. The GAA's anti-doping panel accepted that he didn't know that the bottle of Falcon Oxy Burn Labs Pro Superthermotech he took contained the banned substance methylhexaneamine.

Obviously it's a sad day when a man innocently takes something called Falcon Oxy Burn Labs Pro Superthermotech and gets caught out. Though the harsher souls among us might point out that the way the product is described and marketed might prompt a wiser man to keep well away from it if he wanted to be absolutely sure of keeping the right side of the law.

Methylhexaneamine is pretty good stuff apparently. It's what the Jamaican sprinter Nesta Carter tested positive for a few months back, thus causing team-mate Usain Bolt to be stripped of an Olympic gold.

The argument that doping offences by GAA players should be covered up because the players are amateur is an utter nonsense. Surely, for one thing, it would have been to the benefit of other players to let them know that this contaminated supplement was out there. O'Sullivan tested positive over a year ago, who knows how many more victims there may have been of this terrible stuff since then?

All over the country innocent lads who went to buy some mysterious stimulant with performance-enhancing features could have been put in danger of failing a drug test. The lack of urgency in dealing with such matters tells us a lot, I fear, about the GAA's attitude to doping among its players and about Sport Ireland's supine attitude towards the GAA. Amateurs in other sports have tested positive before and there was no problem releasing their names.

The attitude of the GAA towards doping is highly problematic. The amount of tests is minuscule compared to the amount of senior inter-county players. And those players never stop whingeing about having to do drug tests, something which brought this acid rejoinder from Cork athlete Lizzie Lee: "Ridiculous. I'm a full-time working mom. My whole house has been woken by testers arriving on a random week night for blood." It puts the whining of young men about having to wait around for a couple of hours after a game into some perspective.

There's something terribly wrong about the idea that GAA players are doing everyone a favour by submitting themselves to drug-testing. You'd imagine the Association would actually welcome the opportunity to put a stop to doping in its ranks. I've no time for people whingeing that players shouldn't have to submit to drug tests, "because they don't get any grant money for doing it". The logical corollary of this argument is that the GAA's amateur status means that players should be allowed to take whatever drugs they want.

The three instances of positive tests have put paid to the comforting myth that there is no doping in the GAA. The genie is out of the bottle.

One eye-opening feature of O'Sullivan's testimony was the array of legal supplements and stimulants he was taking. Players are always seeking to gain an edge in the GAA. Is it really any surprise that some of them go the illegal route? We're always told that GAA players are like professionals in their preparation. Yet when they're caught doping, we're asked to believe that they're the Merry Ploughboy, not knowing what these fancy modern drugs are at all, at all. It would make a dog laugh.

The way in which O'Sullivan was spared the maximum sentence reminded me of a peculiarly Irish love for the Jesuitical legalistic explanation. Remember all those politicians at tribunals explaining that there was no connection between the large 'political donation' given to them by a developer and the planning decision benefiting the developer subsequently made? "There were no favours given or asked for," they'd say, apparently convinced that unless a piece of paper with 'IOU 20,000 quid's worth of favours' turned up, they weren't really guilty.

O'Sullivan's testimony and the way it was accepted by the anti-doping panel suggests that people in the GAA believe that unless a player is swigging from something with 'Brendan's Big Bottle Of Illegal Drugs' written on it, it's not really doping. And if that's the attitude, it's a fair bet that there are plenty of dopers out there.

The hullaballoo and the weasel words last week reminded me of the time years ago when Graham Geraghty racially abused an opponent in Australia. At the time there were those who argued it wasn't really racism but part of a wholesome GAA culture of mutual insult whereby lads would address someone as a Mayo p***k or a ginger-haired bollocks. GAA racism, they argued, wasn't really racism at all. To their credit they saw through this and today racial abuse is an offence in Gaelic games.

Now we have people arguing that GAA doping isn't really doping at all. Will the GAA see through this one? I hope so. As the American writer Susan Sontag once said, "Let's not be stupid together." Putting your fingers in your ears, going "la, la, la, la" and pretending you can't hear what's going on is a tactic which loses its charm once you pass the age of four.

The sad truth is that anyone who thinks the three positive tests are isolated cases is a dope. You don't need a laboratory test to tell you that.

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