Monday 17 June 2019

Tyrone star Sean Cavanagh: 'I've no doubt there are drugs in the GAA'

Cavanagh foresees more positive drug tests in GAA

Sean Cavanagh, Tyrone
Sean Cavanagh, Tyrone
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Tyrone hero Sean Cavanagh reckons that throughout his career he's been tested for illicit substances on average once a season.

Some years he could be hauled in on a few occasions to provide a sample. Another campaign would go by and the Sport Ireland people wouldn't come his way. In all, he's been tested between 10 to 15 times in his career.

Cavanagh's opinion on the testing echoes the refrain from many on the inter-county circuit. Getting tested isn't the problem, but the long wait that can sometimes be required for a player to produce a sample is an ongoing issue.

"I suppose the way in which the testing is done can be an issue at times," said the three-time All-Ireland winner.


"Last year we played Sligo (in Croke Park) and my younger brother Colm and Peter Harte were tested. As a team, we went to the Regency and got a bite to eat. We were waiting on them to finish up.

"I think there was a game after us, Donegal were playing, but we were up the road at maybe 8 or 9 that night and Peter and Colm were still sitting here waiting to give their samples or what not.

"As amateur players, sometimes that can be quite frustrating. We've seen it at training on a Tuesday night, an hour from home and guys are sitting at a quarter to 12 at night waiting to give their sample when they have to get up for work the next morning at seven o'clock.

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"While you understand that it has to be done, the way in which it is done sometimes can be frustrating for players in that we're treated as professionals but we're not professionals and that can have an impact on guys' lives as well."

GAA players can be tested at collective training or matches but not at their homes with counties required to log the whereabouts of their training sessions. Last year, 95 GAA players were tested. One case in Monaghan came back positive and led to a two-year ban.

There was a change to testing protocols in 2016. From January 1, testers can now ask for blood as well as a urine sample which may help eradicate the problems surrounding the production of a viable urine sample. And Cavanagh (below) reckons there while the level of testing is a deterrent, there are still players on the inter-county circuit out there who will take the chance.

"I'd say there's probably a great chance (of getting tested) now," said the Moy man. "You know, five, six, seven, eight years ago, whenever we were tested, 10 years ago, the worst thing you could probably fall foul of is a dodgy Lemsip.

"Nowadays there's that much proteins, branched chain amino acids - I don't even understand half the stuff the boys are taking to be honest.

"I suppose you have to recognise that there is a risk there and guys are taking that chance. I have no doubt there are players out there who are probably taking the chance. You have to accept that you do want that level playing field. I don't have an issue with the doping (tests) as such. It's just the way in which it is done."

Asked to clarify whether he believed players were on performance-enhancing drugs, Cavanagh reiterated that, whether intentional or accidental, some players are likely to have illegal substances in their system.

"I'd say there's probably a reasonable chance that some guys are maybe. And obviously there was a case last year where one of the Monaghan lads and what not.

"I suppose there's that much available in terms of supplements and a lot of guys just aren't educated enough to know what they can and can't take. There's that many things on the internet that are saying 'batch tested' and what not but it's a complete minefield at the moment.

"I'm not all that into it. I'm still stuck in the Tracker bar and Jaffa Cake era, 10 years ago! Look, some guys are hugely into it nowadays so I'd say there probably is a chance, whether purposely or not, that there probably are guys that are playing that have something in the system that shouldn't be there. That's just a fact of life."

Cavanagh, who turned 32 yesterday, is back for a 15th season with the county and admits the exciting new wave of talent in Tyrone made his decision to return more straightforward.


"You have to re-assess things every year, injury-wise and family-wise as well. An awful lot is said about the commitment it does take and you are committing to not seeing my two young girls for another nine months of my life."

"It definitely is easier when you look around you and see brilliant footballers, and it probably is like the third (Tyrone) team I have been involved in. The first one was the Canavans and the Doohers and Chris Lawns and guys like that and Cormac McAnallen.

"The mid-2000s of the Philip Jordans and the Stephen O'Neills and all that era. Now all those guys are gone and we have the Mattie Donnellys and Peter Hartes driving the team on.

"I've been lucky enough to see three new Tyrone teams but this one definitely has the ability to emulate some of those former teams. There's no such thing as a fairytale ending to anyone's career but I see a good team around me and I want to be around that right now."

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