'Best possible outcome' for star O'Mahony

Aidan O'Mahony has returned to training after an elbow injury

Cliona Foley

DESPITE having almost twice the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) permitted level of Salbutamol in his system, Kerry footballer Aidan O'Mahony escaped any playing ban yesterday.

After it was ruled that he had only used his asthma inhaler for medical purposes, the leading Kerry footballer is expected to hold a press conference tomorrow, when he will speak for the first time about the three-month nightmare that he has been forced to endure after becoming the first GAA player to fail a drugs test last September.

O'Mahony did not comment yesterday because he was involved in a course as part of his final days of Garda training at Templemore, a situation which alone demonstrated the pressures he has been under as an amateur player forced to meet the same standards in sport as professional sportsmen and women.


But his anguish finally came to an end when the GAA's Anti-Doping Hearing Committee emphatically ruled that the high level of Salbutamol in his system was due to using an asthma inhaler for medical purposes only and exonerated him of any attempt to enhance his sporting performance.

They did rule that the level in his system constituted more than the allowed 'therapeutic' use and that he had, technically, failed a drugs test. Up to three weeks ago, under the old WADA rules which govern all Irish sports, he could have received either a one- or two-year suspension if he had been unable to explain his Salbutamol level.

But the committee were satisfied with his explanation that he had taken eight puffs of his inhaler on the day of the All-Ireland final and he escaped with a reprimand. The hearing committee clearly took into account that WADA made critical changes to their rules governing Salbutamol since January 1, which were particularly pertinent to this case. There is widespread debate in medical-sport circles about whether Salbutamol enhances performance and also about the difficulties of policing medicines that players legitimately take and are pre-authorised to use, as O'Mahony was.

Under their new 2009 code, WADA has re-categorised a finding of Salbutamol in excess of 1,000 nanogrammes per millilitre (ng/ml) as "a specified substance" whereas before they regarded such a level as "a prohibited substance" which could earn bans of up to two years.

The GAA's Anti-Doping Hearing Committee, comprised of former Dublin manager Dr Pat O'Neill, ex-GAA President Sean McCague and Adrian Colton (QC), noted that "the very categorisation of Salbutamol as a specified/prohibited substance is a matter of continuing medical debate".

It emerged yesterday that the level of Salbutamol in O'Mahony's system was 1,977ng/ml, almost twice the 1,000 ng/ml threshold the WADA allow for users of asthma inhalers.

The German laboratory that handled O'Mahony's sample testified that, in 2006 and 2007 -- when they handled between 10,000 and 12,000 samples annually -- they had never had a sample over 1,000 ng/ml. It was also revealed in the course of hearing that O'Mahony had, once before (on an unspecified date) had a previous finding of Salbutamol in excess of 1,000 ng/ml in his system which the Irish Sports Council "did not consider a violation of the (Anti-Doping) rules".

The hearing committee appear to have also taken this into account in O'Mahony's favour. The player's solicitor, Paul Derham, described the ruling as "a huge weight off Aidan's shoulders" and said that, short of getting no reprimand, it was "the best possible outcome for him".

In his evidence, O'Mahony admitted that his asthma was so bad on the eve of the All-Ireland that he probably should not have played.

He said he had taken between eight and 10 puffs on September 21, could "hardly breathe" when he woke up at 4am on the morning of the match and took two puffs at that stage.

He said he took another two puffs before Mass that morning because he still felt unwell, took two puffs before the warm-up and another two before the game and was unsure if he had taken another two at half-time.

The Kerry County Board, the Gaelic Players's Association (GPA) and GAA President Nickey Brennan immediately welcomed his acquittal.

Brennan said he was looking forward to seeing O'Mahony back in the Kerry colours in the upcoming National League and stressed that it was important to note that while the player received a reprimand, "it should not be interpreted as casting any aspersions on Aidan O'Mahony's integrity," -- something the GPA reiterated.

Brennan said the case would serve to stress the importance to everyone involved in inter-county games of "the importance of strict adherence to the provisions of the Irish Anti-Doping rules, especially in relation to asthmatics."

The result was even welcomed by the Irish Sports Council, who are essentially sport's anti-doping police.

As O'Mahony was the first so-called "adverse finding" in GAA history, it was very much a test-case for the association.

And while others had criticised the delay in bringing in a verdict -- the process took over nine weeks, including two five-hour hearings -- the Sports Council "commended the GAA for thorough and fair process and accepted the adjudication in full".

Kerry chairman Jerome Conway said, "we had always maintained that Aidan's adverse finding was easily explained by the fact that he was taking Salbutamol for his asthma complaint and it was exacerbated by the fact that he had flu symptoms on the weekend of the All-Ireland final."