Opinion

Wednesday 29 January 2020

The splutter of indignation has always been a popular response with backpedalling Irishmen

Dr Una May
Dr Una May
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

So what are we to make of Eamonn Fitzmaurice's lengthy explanation of Kerry's role in the Brendan O'Sullivan doping saga? Not much if Dr Una May, Sport Ireland's anti-doping chief, is to be believed.

Dr May seems infuriated by what she sees as Fitzmaurice's insistence that the most important aspect of the case was the leaking of information to this newspaper.

She also denied the manager's claim that Sport Ireland had told O'Sullivan over the phone that he was going to be banned for four years, and emphasised that any delay in the case was caused not by Sport Ireland, as Fitzmaurice had implied, but by the GAA's insistence on taking the legal route on behalf of the player.

"There is one reason why a case takes so long and that's when somebody is legally challenging a case," said Dr May last week. "Every possible aspect of the case is examined in minute detail and every letter that goes from one party to another has to be responded to. Then another response and another response, but it's in the athlete's control. He was offered opportunities along the way to speed it up."

In other words, if the player had to suffer a lengthy ordeal it was his own fault, or at least the fault of the GAA. Why the GAA chose to address the manner in this fashion is another question. You don't, for example, see Athletics Ireland dragging out cases like that when their representatives test positive for a prohibited substance.

Kerry County Board responded to Dr May's response by saying that the information about a possible four-year ban had been contained in an attachment to an email she sent to O'Sullivan. They appear to think this actually proves Fitzmaurice was in the right.

But there is a very big difference between information about the possible maximum length of suspension appearing in an email and someone telling a player down the phone they've been banned for four years. It's the difference between an attachment to an email and a phone conversation for starters.

In saying that there was a 'you've been banned' phone call, Fitzmaurice was misleading people, perhaps inadvertently. Maybe O'Sullivan told him there was one.

Similarly, when a leak discloses wrongdoing and cover-up, it's pretty much par for the course for those exposed to claim that the fact of the leak is the most worrying aspect of the case. But it's not, is it? That kind of sophistry serves no-one.

The Kerry County Board's "We hope that this finally concludes this protracted process" betrays a touching belief that they are entitled to the final say on the O'Sullivan case and how it's covered. Sadly that's not how things work either.

Fitzmaurice's statement on the case was impressive in terms of length and detail but not entirely convincing. The claim that O'Sullivan refused to serve his seven-month ban and appealed it, having already served 11 weeks, because it would spell the end of his Kerry career seems an odd one given that the player was just 21 at the time.

Unless, of course, someone ordered him to appeal, thus making him eligible for the championship, on pains of never being allowed back into the Kerry fold again. Who knows?

The manager also paints a picture of a young player so sensitive that he took the stimulant containing the prohibited substance because he didn't want to tell the management that he didn't like the taste of the caffeine gel players were recommended to take. The 'not liking the taste of the gel' excuse has come up before. The only problem with it is that in his testimony O'Sullivan admitted to using the gel as well as the stimulant. So what Fitzmaurice is saying there is utterly beside the point.

I'd also have to say that his indignant 'Merry Christmas' comment about the fact that Sport Ireland rang O'Sullivan on December 21 reminded me of nothing so much as Bertie Ahern whining, when his constituency secretary was revealing some unpalatable truths about his financial arrangements in front of a tribunal, that the lawyers were subjecting her to questioning on a church holiday. The splutter of indignation is a traditionally popular response with the backpedalling Irishman.

It's up to you who you want to believe. But that decision shouldn't be influenced by the fact that on one side you have the manager of one of the GAA's most powerful teams while on the other you have someone most of us hadn't even heard of before this controversy began.

Any amount of wishful thinking won't change the fact that Fitzmaurice's statement not only contains answers but also begs questions. Kerry County Board, and the GAA authorities, might be as well to remember the words of former Retro Soul Gaels clubman Lenny Kravitz.

'Baby it ain't over till it's over.'

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