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Monday 16 September 2019

Obituary: Joe Cummiskey

Consultant who was a leading crusader in the war on doping in sport, writes Liam Collins

CAMPAIGNER: Joe Cummiskey made his mark on sport and medicine and had ‘a great sense of fun and devilment’
CAMPAIGNER: Joe Cummiskey made his mark on sport and medicine and had ‘a great sense of fun and devilment’

Joe Cummiskey, who retired two years ago as a consultant with the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin, was described by his alma mater, Rockwell College, as "a man of uncommonly large character", a description borne out by the attendance at his funeral in Dublin last Tuesday.

A mixture of the medical colleagues, athletes and rugby players, as well as family and friends, recalled his achievements and his standing on the Medical Commission of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

He was a leading campaigner in the ongoing battle to eradicate drugs from sport and worked tirelessly, giving lectures and attending conferences on the subject during the latter part of his life.

He was also remembered by friends as great company and, along with his friend Louis Kilcoyne, the former owner of Shamrock Rovers football club, "would have you in stitches all night".

Joe Cummiskey, who was born January 12, 1945, was one of five sons who grew up in south County Dublin. He attended Willow Park junior school in Blackrock before his mother decided the only way of dealing with such a male- dominated household was to consign her sons to Rockwell College in Co Tipperary.

There, he is remembered as "a pillar of Rockwell life" and a former President of the Past Pupils' Union. He captained the school team which won the Munster Senior Cup in 1964 and the athletics team that won the College of Science Cup the same year.

He went to study medicine at University College Dublin, where he was the 100 and 220-yards champion for several years and a member of the relay team which represented Ireland in the White City in London.

His speed and agility made him an excellent winger on the rugby field, where he played in UCD along with such colourful figures as Peter Sutherland, Al Moroney, Barry Bresnihan, Tony Hickie and others, some of whom went on to play for Ireland and the Lions.

He played on the Leinster Senior Cup team beaten by Terenure in 1967, but was still playing in 1970, the year he graduated, when they won the Cup, Fergus Slattery being one of his team-mates.

He also played in two 'colours' matches against Trinity College, the first of which in 1967 was remembered as one of the best rugby matches in Lansdowne Road, and both of which TCD won.

Prior to his death, he was involved in organising a 50th-anniversary dinner for the teams, which is due to take place next September. He was also capped for Munster but after college, joined Blackrock Rugby Club.

His son, Joseph, told the congregation at his funeral Mass in Booterstown, Co Dublin, that Joe had "a great sense of fun and devilment" and in retirement, was able to indulge his passion for rugby and good company.

"He told me he had attended four different lunches one rugby weekend." He also played golf at Elm Park and tennis at Riverview.

After qualifying as a doctor, he did a stint in London before emigrating in 1976 with the family to California.

He remained in the United States where he held positions in the Stanford medical school until 1985 when he returned to take up a position in the newly-opened Blackrock Clinic as a consultant in respiratory medicine.

In 1992, following the Seoul Olympics, he was appointed Chief Medical Officer for the Irish Olympic Council when he succeeded Dr Kevin O'Flanagan, another sporting and rugby champion. In his capacity with the Irish Olympic Council and the International Olympic Council, he became one of the world's leading experts on doping in sport.

"The control of doping in sport is a global issue," he said organising a major conference on the subject in Dublin. He believed that, as Medical Officer, he should have access to the athlete's medical records, a step which was resisted by various sporting bodies that cited privacy issues.

During his tenure, he worked closely with the newly-formed World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to combat the use of drugs in sport and liaised with the EU and the US governments on the issue. Senior figures in the Olympic Council of Ireland said he was among the most impressive speakers they heard on the international circuit and he was particularly well regarded in the United States.

Joe Cummiskey died on Saturday, April 28, at the age of 72 following a short illness.

Among those in attendance at his funeral were former Irish Olympic gold medal winner Ronnie Delaney, former judge Garrett Sheehan, the founder of the Blackrock Clinic, Jimmy Sheehan, Pat Hickey, former President of the Olympic Council of Ireland, and many other figures from sport and medicine.

Sunday Independent

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