Friday 21 July 2017

Kerry footballer has served ban over failed drugs test following 2016 league final

Brendan O'Sullivan, in action during the National League final in 2016
Brendan O'Sullivan, in action during the National League final in 2016
The player is understood to have been shocked when informed of the positive test. He subsequently accepted the presence of a banned substance in his system. Photo: Sportsfile
John Greene

John Greene

Kerry footballer Brendan O'Sullivan has failed a routine drugs test, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Confirming the failed test, a spokesperson for Sport Ireland told the Sunday Independent: "Sport Ireland can confirm that the Irish Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel has determined that an inter-county footballer committed an anti-doping violation.

"The Irish Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel is expected to deliver its reasoned written decision shortly. Until such time as that reasoned written decision is delivered, Sport Ireland will not be making any further comment."

The Kerry County Board have released a statement this morning to confirm that O'Sullivan failed the test following last year's Division One league final defeat to Dublin, a game which saw him make an appearance from the substitute's bench, and that his ban has been served.

O'Sullivan did not play for the Kingdom for the remainder of 2016 but returned to action in the first round of the league against Donegal.

"On the 24th of April 2016 Brendan O’ Sullivan (Valentia Young Islanders & Kerry) underwent a routine Sport Ireland doping control test following the Allianz League final," the statement read.

"The results of the test indicated a rule violation.

"Brendan O’Sullivan fully cooperated in assisting Sport Ireland.

"The subsequent findings of Sport Ireland accepted that the rule violation was not intentional and the resultant suspension has been served.

"Sport Ireland is expected to deliver a written decision shortly.

"All involved with Kerry GAA are delighted to see Brendan back playing football.

"Kerry County Committee and Team Management will be making no further comments until the Sport Ireland report has been issued."

Even though O’Sullivan’s breach was accepted as unintentional, the principle of strict liability applies in all cases under anti-doping rules. This means that an athlete who tests positive is considered responsible for the presence of the banned substance in his or her system regardless of how it got there and whether they intended to cheat or not. In applying any sanction, a hearings committee can subsequently take mitigating circumstances into account when determining the length of a ban and so reduce it from the standard four years.

O'Sullivan is expected to be informed of the panel's findings within two weeks.

This is just the second positive test in the GAA in the last two years. In June 2015, Monaghan's Thomas Connolly was banned for two years after testing positive for a banned substance in February of that year. That ban has now been served.

Connolly admitted taking stanozolol, a prohibited anabolic steroid, but argued he had not known that pills he had taken contained the substance and that the pills had not been correctly labelled. This assertion was accepted by the hearings committee at the time and used in mitigation in applying a two-year rather than a four-year suspension.

In relation to this latest instance, however, questions are now likely to be asked as to why it has taken 13 months for it to emerge and why it was not included in Sport Ireland’s 2016 anti-doping report which was published earlier this year.

O’Sullivan was clearly very unfortunate and what happened to him serves as a clear warning to others.

GAA players are amateur but the Association receives public funding, and inter-county players also receive grants from the government and compliance with Sport Ireland’s anti-doping code is a core condition of funding.

In 2016, Sport Ireland spent almost €1.8m on its anti-doping programme, which is internationally recognised for its vigilance. Just over 1,000 blood and urine tests were carried out on Irish athletes at home and abroad and 97 - or just under 10 per cent - of those were on Gaelic footballers and hurlers. A further four ladies footballers and four camogie players were also tested.

Last year was the first year that Gaelic players were blood tested. Previously, only urine tests were carried out.

Dr Una May, director of the Irish Sports Council anti-doping unit, has put on the record that she does not believe doping is a major issue in the GAA.

However, there have been instances where inter-county teams have been fined under the whereabouts scheme. As part of the anti-doping code, all inter-county football and hurling teams must inform Sport Ireland of where and when they will be training, and testers can arrive unannounced to conduct out of competition tests.

In 2015 and 2016 there were six fines imposed on teams who were not where they said they would be when testers arrived. In all cases, it later transpired there had been a breakdown in communications, and the GAA and Sport Ireland have been working to tighten this area up. It emerged last week that the six missed sessions were by the Dublin hurlers, Mayo footballers and Armagh footballers in 2015 and Kilkenny hurlers and the Carlow footballers, on two separate occasions, in 2016.

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