Monday 26 September 2016

'There's just no way Michael was taking a performance-enhancing drug. I am certain of that' - Kenneth Egan

Kenneth Egan

Published 05/08/2016 | 02:30

O’Reilly with the gold medal he won at the 2015 European Games. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
O’Reilly with the gold medal he won at the 2015 European Games. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

When I first heard the news about Michael O'Reilly's positive test, I was sure it was a wind-up.

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My initial reaction was that it must have been for recreational use because, put simply, there's just no way Michael was taking a performance-enhancing drug.

A detailed view of Michael O’Reilly’s boxing draw which took place as the news of his positive test was breaking. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
A detailed view of Michael O’Reilly’s boxing draw which took place as the news of his positive test was breaking. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Doping is just not something that's done in the high-performance system. Having spent 13 years as a senior amateur boxer, I can say that with certainty, but nonetheless this will be the ultimate blow for Irish boxing.

The world's media know about it and Michael is about to be asked some hard questions. That's only fair.

Every athlete is responsible for what they put in their body, end of story. You have to know what's on the banned list and the lads are well educated by the Irish Sports Council, so there's no excuse.

It could have been anything - an innocent mistake or a banned substance - but the bottom line is it's a failed test and Michael is going to be eliminated from the Olympic Games. That's a shame because he had a genuine medal chance.

I don't know Michael well, but I know all about his talent. He was just coming into the programme when I was coming out, but I've followed his career from afar and the guy has talent coming out of his ears.

Throughout my career, we were well educated about what we could and couldn't take, so Michael will be held personally responsible for this. The lads aren't in the high-performance setup 24/7; they go home a couple of days a week to see their family and friends and what he does in his spare time is Michael's business.

During my own career, I was always very wary of making mistakes like this. When we were in training camps, I wouldn't ever accept a water bottle from anybody else.

I was tested 10 to 15 times a year at my peak. The Irish Sports Council is really, really tough on our athletes, but it's a fantastic anti-doping system, and most countries around the world aren't as rigorous. The tests are getting better and dopers will always get caught.

Having said that, I believe amateur boxing is clean. Drug-taking is very, very rare. In my opinion, doping is just not going to enhance your performance much.

The only time a drug might be used is for a boxer to make weight, and that's not going to benefit your boxing.

In a sport where it's three three-minute rounds, it's much less likely to be a factor than in longer bouts.

My advice to Michael is to keep his head. It's not the end of the world. I know it's easy to say that, but the harsh reality is this is probably going to be his one and only chance at the Olympic Games.

At the end of the day, there's no one dead.

Michael needs to gather his thoughts, get together with his family and friends and have some time away from the spotlight.

This will be a test, no doubt. His dream of competing at the Olympic Games is being taken away from him over a terrible mistake. It's really unfortunate, but he'll get through this.

One of the most tragic things to come out of this is that some people may start doubting other Irish boxers who are in Rio.

That's wrong, because this is a group that's worked really, really hard to get where they are. Even though it might sound bad, the rest of the team need to just forget about this and focus on the job they have to do in Rio: to fight and win medals.

Irish Independent

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