GAA amateurs close to top of drug-testing list
GAA players continue to be the second most drug-tested athletes in the country, on a par with professional rugby players and only fractionally behind professional cyclists.
The national anti-doping programme tested 92 GAA players last year, compared to 94 cyclists and 60 rugby players, with the IRFU paying for 32 additional tests. Olympic sports like athletics (78), swimming (45), boxing (45) and rowing (34) were considerably less tested, while, at the complete other end of the extreme, just four Irish cricketers were tested on home soil in 2010.
Yet, there is some consolation for GAA players, as fears that they would be subjected to blood-testing in the near future have, at least, been allayed. The Irish Sports Council has introduced blood-testing in the last year and has already carried out 65 tests in five different sports -- athletics, swimming, rugby, cycling and paralympics.
But officials have now confirmed that the GAA is not yet on their agenda in this regard and won't be for another year at least.
"We will definitely start to do it (blood- testing) in more sports next year and there is absolutely nothing to stop us doing GAA players," said the ISC's director of anti-doping Dr Una May. "But our priority is to focus on the really high-risk sports first and get it right there."
She defended their relatively rigorous testing of GAA players, which most recently attracted criticism when a Kerry footballer was delayed for several hours after training as he was too dehydrated to give a sample.
The ISC has already clarified that players can be tested at the beginning of a training session and have since reiterated this to all county boards. Dr May said the statistics on GAA tests can be misread because "those 92 tests covered two different sports -- football and hurling -- and if you divide it in those terms, there is a more even balance".
"That would make them comparable to soccer (53), and you have to bear in mind that, while rugby had 60 tests, all of theirs were out-of-competition, and the IRFU also paid for an additional 32 tests which brought them up to 92," she stressed.
Nonetheless, the fact that the same number of senior inter-county footballers and hurlers were tested as professional rugby players will still raise eyebrows among the GAA community.
The association was forced to sign up for drug-testing in 2002 as it was a condition of retaining their government funding. Some players initially refused to sit tests, which, technically, is the equivalent of failing one, but the ISC took a softly-softly approach at first.
GAA players can only be tested after matches, or at training, and are not subjected to any random individual testing. That applies to most team sports, but since 2009 Irish rugby players can be tested randomly outside of a squad situation.
Under ISC rules, teams must inform them quarterly of where they will be training in order to facilitate testing. They have had a problem with inter-county teams moving training and not informing them.
Last year, there were nine unsuccessful attempts to test GAA teams at training and county boards will now be sanctioned for this by having to pay the costs of any missed tests.
"It was a problem and we sat down with the GAA to try to solve it and they have responded by putting in this sanction," Dr May explained.
"We notify them if we have had an unsuccessful attempt (to do tests) and send them an invoice for the costs we incurred and they forward it to the relevant county board."
The ISC has had a similar problem with League of Ireland soccer teams, but has not yet introduced a sanction for them as they are first trying, with the FAI, to undertake their testing during the most appropriate time of year.