Sunday 4 December 2016

"There is doping in the GAA and that's for sure," says double Paralympic gold medallist

EXCLUSIVE: Mark Rohan says drug cheats are everywhere

Michael Verney EXCLUSIVE

Published 11/05/2015 | 08:48

A general view of Croke Park
A general view of Croke Park

Double Paralympic gold medallist Mark Rohan claims the GAA is no different from professional sports when it comes to cheating and strongly believes there are dopers in the amateur organisation.

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Rohan’s comments come in the wake of the first doping scandal in the GAA over the weekend where the Sunday Independent reported that a Monaghan footballer tested positive for steroids in February.

The 33-year-old, who has been based in the US since December, was not surprised to hear the recent revelations and it is something he has been expecting for quite some time.

“I strongly believe there are dopers in the GAA. Once you involve money in sport it f*** everything up. The GAA is no different to any professional sport and is not exempt from cheats,” Rohan said speaking exclusively to Indepenedent.ie.

“You see big companies investing in county sponsorship and that puts added pressure on players. It just takes one high profile guy to get injured and say ‘okay I need to get something back over the winter, I need to build up something here’.

“A lot of the top counties have access to absolutely everything and the best of facilities and personnel but sometimes sports science only goes so far and the temptation for further gains is there.”

Ireland's Mark Rohan celebrates with his Bronze Medal after finishing third in the Men's H2 Time Trial with a time of 31:16.53. 2014 UCI Paracyling World Road Championships
Ireland's Mark Rohan celebrates with his Bronze Medal after finishing third in the Men's H2 Time Trial with a time of 31:16.53. 2014 UCI Paracyling World Road Championships

Rohan, a promising U21 Gaelic footballer in his native Westmeath before a road accident left him paralysed from the waist down in 2001, believes the subject of doping is taboo in the GAA but can't deny its presence.

As an elite sportsman himself, the handcycling champion cannot fathom the domination of teams in ultra-competitive and highly attritional sports like Gaelic games and is staggered by the visible physical gains made in recent years.

“When you see one team dominating it raises suspicion. And people don’t wan’t to hear that. When a team is dominating for that long playing at a crazy intensity there’s something up,” he suggested.

“I’ve watched GAA players at close quarters and they are phenomenal athletes. I’ve been in Croke Park for the big games and they are operating on a different level.

“When you see it up close, they’re on a different planet completely. There is doping in the GAA and that's for sure.”

When Rohan sees something that is superhuman, he thinks just that. “There’s no such thing as superhuman. You can’t last that long at the top of a highly competitive sport,” he added.

The GAA have been drug-testing senior inter-county players as part of an agreement with the Irish Sports Council since 2001 and last year conducted 89 drug tests. From his own experience, Rohan has faith in the system.

“One thing I would say is the Irish Sports Council do run one of the most comprehensive drug testing programs in the world,” he said.

Ireland's Mark Rohan prior to competing in the Men's H2 Road. 2014 UCI Paracyling World Road Championships
Ireland's Mark Rohan prior to competing in the Men's H2 Road. 2014 UCI Paracyling World Road Championships

“I’ve been tested twice since arriving in the US. If they are responsible for the GAA testing program, then they will detect some of the cheaters.”

Rohan, who was involved with the Westmeath footballers in 2013, maintains that the GAA is taking the lead from professional sports such as tennis and cycling where he believes doping is rife.

The Ballinahown man said: “I’ve played wheelchair tennis for a couple of years and you’re always battling with your head and it’s incredibly draining.

“The way those top guys compete for three, four and five hours and then come out the next day and the day after that showing no ill effects is unbelievable.”

Rohan is currently on an altitude training camp in Flagstaff, Arizona which will cost him a minimum of €3,000 and he says that not all athletes have access to the best ‘legal’ training aids or facilities.

He remarked: ”It’s all ethical as well. I'm in altitude training but an athlete in a poorer country won’t have access to that so he’s competing against me and he’s up against it before he starts.

“Basically what I’m doing, EPO (Erythropoietin) does the same thing. So I’m getting an advantage that these guys will never have and sometimes you think it isn’t fair."

The Sky Sports Living for Sport program ambassador is adamant that doping exists in the Paralympics also with massive financial gains for those who reach the upper echelons of their chosen pursuit.

"People wouldn’t think it but there are dopers in Paralympic sport. Once you get to the top, you have the access to the best physiotherapists and all the top sports equipment,” he claimed.

“If you hit the top three in your sport in Ireland you get €40,000 so the incentives for those guys that are trying to get in there are enormous.”

“If an athlete sees a chance to close the gap with little risk of getting caught they will take the chance. And the bigger the rewards, the bigger the risk the athlete will take.”

Rohan believes the attitude to performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) is changing worldwide, citing the re-signing of sprinter Justin Gatlin by sporting powerhouse Nike as an acceptance that doping now forms part of elite sport.

He questions the signal that this sends to athletes around the world and claims that sports men and women are unschooled to the health hazards associated with PED’s, instead choosing potential wealth over permanent health.

He concludes: “All you have to do is look at the findings on concussion in the NFL. You would think all rugby players would seriously look into this and educate themselves against potential health risks. No chance.

"The rewards are big for rugby, especially in Ireland, so the athletes will take the risk. The same mentality applies to health risks and the effects of performance enhancing drugs.

“What I’m trying to point out is the mentality of some athletes in relation to their health. Some favour risk and reward over their well being.”

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