GAA standing test of time
AS a couple of hundred cyclists wheeled down the Champs Elysees in Paris to conclude the Tour de France yesterday, I wondered to myself how many of those guys are clean.
It's an asterix that hangs over their sport. There have been some superhuman achievements in cycling, track and field and a range of other sports, but there's always a part of you that doubts their achievement because of a previous indiscretion somewhere along the line.
That's why we're lucky to be involved in a sport that doesn't have that issue with drug cheats. Testing has been in place since 2002 when it was rather clumsily forced on the inter-county playing population of the country.
I remember Waterford hurlers Paul Flynn and Brian Flannery initially refusing to be tested after the beat Cork in the Munster championship and all the furore that surrounded it. They eventually provided a sample under protest, but I fully understood where they were coming from. If I had been called for a sample at that time, I would have done the exact same thing.
Why? Well we didn't know the first thing about what was legal and illegal or what needed to be reported or what didn't. We certainly didn't know at the time that there is a difference between Lemsip and Lemsip Max Strength and how they show up on your test, or between the different types of Nurofen you can buy in the shops. No one knew the first thing about it at the time, and, on that basis, you would have had fellas failing tests left, right and centre simply down to the fact that there was no education on the subject.
In that regard, things have improved as time has gone on. A booklet has been provided with a list of banned substances and the medications that contain them, though I know most lads don't bother reading them.
We're lucky in Sligo that our team doctor Declan Clinton is on top of all that stuff. We'd consult him if we wanted to take something for the likes of a simple head cold or a tooth ache. You can't just take the first thing you'd find in most medicine cabinets and Declan would tell us what's okay and what to avoid.
I've also taken a couple of cortisone injections in my time and that has to be reported to the proper authorities, in the same way anyone with asthma would has to inform the relevant body if they do something as simple as change their inhaler. The other issue I had with the introduction of the tests was the facilities provided at the time to carry them out. They didn't exist back in 2002 and for the large part, they still don't, which makes the whole process a lot more uncomfortable than it already is.
Ireland's sole representative in the Tour de France Nicolas Roche wrote in his diary in these pages that he got called for a test after one of the stages. He dropped his shorts inside a glass cubicle and peed as two men, one behind him and one in front, watched.
GAA venues generally don't have specific drug testing rooms like the one Roche was in. Without getting into too much gory detail, you get called randomly for a test after a game or at training. And you are shadowed until you provide a sample of around 90ml. Until you do, the testers don't leave your side, and when you're in the act of 'providing', the tester holds the container. For his sake, your aim better be good.
Ourselves and Mayo got randomly tested in Markievicz Park after we played in the Connacht championship earlier this year. I was glad I didn't get called because it was a warm day and I felt very dehydrated. Two of the lads, who didn't play on the day, were called to provide a test before they even got in the door of the dressing room. One of them didn't make the 90ml level required at the first attempt, so he had to sit there until he could produce the goods. The team bus pulled off without them and we were already through our post-match meal before they caught up with us around two hours later.
It's for that reason that I would welcome the shift to blood testing that was mooted earlier this year. It would be quicker and could be done on the spot and it would cause the least amount of interference.
Drug testing is here to stay and my attitude towards it has changed. We've a clean sport and have the history of eight years of tests to back it up now. For the most part, players have access to the correct information regarding what they can or can't take, so we shouldn't have many problems in the future. That means whoever collects the Sam Maguire or Liam McCarthy in September, got there on their own steam.
All the while, a cloud hangs over the lads on the Champs Elysees.
- You'll have to forgive me for not delving into our disastrous exit from this year's championship on Saturday night - the past week on the field has been hard to digest, but I will reflect on the life of a county footballer after the championship next week.