Alan Brogan: In a career of 14 years I was never asked to do a drugs test
When I first read the news last Sunday morning about a Gaelic footballer's anti-doping violation, my gut feeling was that this was going to be a case of negligence rather than a concerted effort to enhance performance. It's fair to say my gut was correct.
We didn't know the player at first, but obviously Brendan O'Sullivan has known this was coming for some time. I'm sure he was aware that it could become the huge storm it has. And rightly so. It goes without saying there is no room for doping of any sort in our games. But this wasn't cheating, it was an error of judgement, plain and simple. However, even a case of negligence like this must be addressed head on even if only for the education and awareness it will bring to other players around the country.
I have to admit that I am surprised there are still inter-county footballers buying drugs like this over the counter or online. Surely the Kerry management team and their medical team have warned their players of the dangers.
Maybe the guidance coming from county boards isn't of the required standard. Likewise I'm sure the GAA could do more to help players understand the dangers of going outside the system, especially for young players who are new to a panel. In fairness the GPA, in conjunction with the GAA in the background, has a very strong education programme around anti-doping rules and regularly hit members with correspondence on such.
I played for 14 years with Dublin under three or four doctors and three physios. We were briefed every season, more than once as well, on how to handle medication. The physios and dieticians administered any supplements we received.
When I saw Brendan's supplement list I wasn't shocked. Most inter-county players would be taking most of what was on this list. I was never a big fan of supplements myself but they are now a standard part of any GAA player's preparation and recovery, even at club level. At any given time a player could be taking a multivitamin tablet daily, krill oil daily, BCAA (branched-chain amino acids) supplements prior to training to build muscle, protein shakes after training to recover along with one or two others like glucosamine.
Lots of guys would be carrying injuries so may also require anti-inflammatories or painkillers to help manage these injuries. That's life in elite sport; all of the above are perfectly legal and probably necessary.
In the Dublin set-up, we understood the importance of not going outside our medical team. Each manager ensured all our medical needs could be met there. In the 14 years I played I don't think I visited my GP once. Even in the off-season I used the Dublin team doctor for the occasional illness I may have picked up.
The normal person would probably be quite surprised at what is not allowed. I had a bad cold once, in the mid-noughties, and one night I rang Ciarán Reilly, our physio, to ask what medicine to take. He recommended a certain Lemsip but to stay away another Lemsip product as that one contained something on the prohibited list. I was a little shocked myself that something as innocent as picking up the wrong Lemsip could have repercussions in a doping test. From that day on I was always very careful, although I was never tested in 14 years playing county football.
Brendan has paid a heavy price for his error and I'm sure the past week has been tough for him and his family. I feel for him but I'm sure he would be the first to put his hand up to say he made a grave error. For the rest of the inter-county fraternity the message is clear: You have been warned.
There have now been three cases of positive tests in the GAA since 2001. Aidan O'Mahony was the first to fail a test for using his inhaler too much on the day of a game. The second was that of Monaghan panellist Thomas Connolly who tested positive for a steroid. This was most certainly a case on no education on anti-doping having been provided. The GAA anti-doping committee found that "whilst his apparent lack of knowledge of the anti-doping rules could not operate as a defence to the violation itself, we do consider that it is relevant in terms of assessing his state of mind . . . and could well explain what we consider to be his naivety in the matter." O'Sullivan's case is the third one.
This to me does not imply a doping issue in the sport. That's not to say it will never happen and the level of testing in the GAA probably isn't frequent enough as testing will act as a deterrent. Let's improve the education from all stakeholders; let's create awareness around the pitfalls but let's not go looking under the hood for something that doesn't exist. I don't think I'm naive in saying we have one of the purest sports in the world underpinned by our amateur ethos. We don't need this tainted by talk of non-existent doping issues.
I came from one of the most sophisticated GAA dressing rooms in the country, if not the most. Our every need was met in pursuit of winning All-Irelands but I have never seen nor heard a screed of evidence to suggest any doping in the GAA world.
During an interview I had with Paul Kimmage last year, he told me he had received a phone call suggesting the Dublin football team were blood doping. I dismissed it as complete and utter nonsense. I didn't give it much more thought until I read the article again last week.
I wasn't even certain what blood doping is so I looked it up. Basically it is the practice of illegally boosting the number of red blood cells in the bloodstream in order to enhance athletic performance through blood transfusion or injections of EPO. This is what happened in sports like cycling and athletics. Athletes have died from it. It's horrific and Paul has seen the effects close hand so I understand why he leads such a crusade against doping.
What was revealed last week is not what happened in those sports like cycling. However, I wouldn't brush last week's findings under the carpet. Let this case serve as a warning to young players all over the country that the responsibility lies with them. If needs be, let's increase testing, but be assured this is a special sport with the highest levels of sportsmanship and integrity. And, trust me, in Dublin the only way we increase red blood cells is by eating more green leafy vegetables.
Sunday Indo Sport