Sport GAA

Thursday 26 April 2018

Education key to preventing more failed drug tests

Legends Delaney and McConville split on how prevalent abuse of banned substance might be in Gaelic games

Former Armagh sharpshooter Oisin McConville was speaking at the launch of the Setanta Sports Irish Sports Book of the Year
Former Armagh sharpshooter Oisin McConville was speaking at the launch of the Setanta Sports Irish Sports Book of the Year
Kilkenny legend JJ Delaney

Donnchadh Boyle and James Donoghue

Oisin McConville remembers being called for a drugs test during his playing days.

He had a clear conscience and produced a clear sample. But still, in a small corner of mind there was room for panic.

Yesterday, the former Armagh star was still digesting the news of a two-year ban for Thomas Connolly for steroid use - a story which has rocked the GAA world.

It's a development with a number of ramifications but McConville's background as a counsellor leads him to think of the individual first.

"For somebody like him, whose world probably, if he's like the rest of us, revolves around his sport and the fact that he can get out and blow off a bit of steam kicking a ball about. . . that's why I'd be worried about him, that he doesn't have an outlet now to express all that," said McConville.

"And this is when he needs it more than ever."

Perhaps an organisation of the scale of the GAA might have been expected to produce a positive sample at some stage. But opinion is split on just how prevalent the practice might be.

Kilkenny legend JJ Delaney reckons it would be 'naive' to believe Monaghan's Connolly is the only exception to an otherwise clean landscape.

As preparation levels continually ratchet up, so does the pressure on young players to perform - along with the temptation to seek an edge elsewhere.

"It has been done in other sports," Delaney reasoned. "It would be very naive to think somebody wouldn't do that. I don't have the answers for it. I suppose if you educate. . . When I was younger no-one was going to a gym. Now when they're 16, 17, 18 everyone is."

McConville takes a very different view. It's possible but unlikely, he says, that others have gone down a similar route.

"Are there people on performance enhancing drugs? I don't know the answer to that but I'd say you'd be able to count them on one hand if there are any. I don't think it's something that's prevalent."

"I remember being tested. The way it was, everybody threw numbers into (a hat) and we were all assigned a squad number. They picked the numbers out and I happened to be one of the people who was picked out and I went through the process.

"And even though you know in your mind you haven't done anything you are always going 'Jesus'. And every night after that you are asking 'well, has that come back yet, what's the craic with it?'."

New ground has been broken but the fall-out is likely to continue as the GAA adjusts to its new reality.


What both Delaney and McConville agree on is that there is work to be done on education.

Players on the fringes on of panels, as Connolly was, don't have the support that they might need when wading into such a complicated world that is loaded with nuance and caveats.

Delaney has recently retired from the county scene and questioned whether players who spend most of their time with their club should be held to the same standards as established county players.

"We're amateur sports people," Delaney mused. "There is a bit of a grey area because if you take Lemsip you're okay. But if you take Lemsip Plus you could turn up positive, and it tells you positive or negative, it doesn't tell you exactly why you actually failed it.

"So there's a grey area there that amateurs, I don't think, should have to go through because if you have the flu, you have the flu. You have to take something for it.

"Especially club players. Inter-county players, fair enough, you have access to a doctor 24/7. There's no issue with that whatsoever.

"With the education we had in Kilkenny, we knew what to take and what not to take - if there was a grey area there we had access to a doctor to ring him and say, 'Am I okay to take this or not?'

"He'd say yes or no and he'd give you advice of what to take but the club players wouldn't have that access.

"So it's just unfortunate, the first person is always going to be the one that's going to be remembered. And he's going to be the one that an example is made out of as well.

McConville used a similar example of just how easy it can be to ingest a 'banned' substance. However, he backed the introduction of a "zero tolerance" policy to dissuade players.

"There are wee nuances from the North and the south. Lemsip in the North was okay and the one in the south wasn't and I live in on the border," he explained.

"So, that's a very, very simple thing to think you wouldn't be allowed to take a Lemsip if you get a cold. Again it comes back to, 'If in doubt ask.'

"We had a doctor that stated categorically to everybody in that changing room that if you are caught, or if there's anything in your system, that is your responsibility."

"I'm just so disappointed for the lad. I'd seriously wonder about that lad's state of mind and if he's getting any help as a result of it.

"I had a fair idea that he was going to be made an example of, and that's a pity.

"You would hope now that there is some support network there for him.

"It's zero tolerance and I wouldn't be against that at all - I think that's the way it has to be, it has to be zero tolerance.

"But my heart goes out to the lad."

Irish Independent

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