'We had nothing to hide on doping case' - Eamonn Fitzmaurice
Kerry boss Fitzmaurice hits out at delay in O’Sullivan saga
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice has hit out strongly at the lack of expediency in the doping violation case brought against his squad member Brendan O'Sullivan last year.
At a scheduled press conference yesterday, ahead of their Munster semi-final against Clare this weekend, Fitzmaurice demanded to know how word of the case was leaked in advance of the release of Sport Ireland's reasoned decision late last week.
Fitzmaurice said Kerry had sat on a statement they had prepared since last July, when Sport Ireland suspended O'Sullivan's initial four-year ban after accepting the product which contained the banned substance - in this case the caffeine tablet Falcon Labs Oxyburn Pro Superthermotech - was contaminated.
The decision concluded that O'Sullivan bore "no significant fault or negligence". However, he was still banned for 21 weeks after appealing an initial six-month suspension handed down by the GAA's anti-doping committee after refusing to accept a seven-month ban proposed by Sport Ireland in December last.
Fitzmaurice said they were keen for transparency at all times, but the legal advice they got was not to make any statement until the process was concluded. When news broke they lost control of that, he said, and that was "annoying to say the least".
"We wanted to put the whole thing out there, but we couldn't because we had to wait for this bloody report," he said.
"I can't understand why it takes so long. His suspension was suspended once we had proved it was a contaminated product, and Sport Ireland were happy he hadn't cheated. So for us that was the end of the matter. We were just waiting for the process to be completed to release our statement to say 'this is what happened, he was punished, he served an 11-week ban'.
"But nothing happened, nothing happened for the rest of the year. Then on December 21, at 5.30 in the evening, Brendan gets a phone call to say you are suspended for seven months. Happy Christmas, by the way. That's how it went into a second season."
Fitzmaurice said the big question was how it had leaked the way it did.
"We felt all along that we had nothing to hide, Brendan had nothing to hide. But there was a process there. We had to keep our powder dry until the Sport Ireland report was issued. I think there was some commentary this week, were we hiding something, and it's the exact opposite. Brendan has nothing to hide, we have nothing to hide.
"We felt all along that it was important that we released a statement, saying what happened, prior to it breaking in the public domain.
"Our hand was forced, because the report was leaked, and I think that's a huge question. Why? And how? And who leaked it?
"You're talking about a player, and a human being, and this thing is leaked before the end of the process."
Fitzmaurice said it didn't "wash" with him that those involved in the various stages of the process are volunteers, stating that he was also a volunteer, as were all the Kerry players and officials (with the exception of his medical staff), including nutritionist Kevin Beasley.
"How long the process takes is not very professional. Maybe someone can take me into a room and say 'this is why it takes so long'. It doesn't wash with me.
"I don't understand how a player can test for something on April 24, 2016, and the report is released on June 1, 2017? And the appeals were all stating the same thing. I think it could certainly be streamlined."
Fitzmaurice outlined O'Sullivan had received a call from Sport Ireland on the morning of May 12 to be informed he had failed a drugs test and was banned from all sports for four years.
"I didn't read that anywhere this week," he said.
The Kerry manager accepted his player had made a mistake in not coming to Beasley, or the team's medical staff, when he decided to go off independently and seek out the caffeine tablets as a replacement for the caffeine gel he didn't like the taste of.
"I would imagine - and he's never said this to me - it was because he might have said 'this is my first year in a Kerry panel and I'm not going to be a prima donna saying I don't like the taste of the gel and can I get something else?' That was his mistake.
"He rang me on the day that he was informed and by the time we finished the phone call I knew where the problem was straight away. Thanks be to God we nailed it down so quickly that it didn't become a more serious thing, that he was being accused of cheating."
Fitzmaurice also outlined why O'Sullivan declined to accept the seven-month ban from Sport Ireland, having already served 11 weeks.
"He knew straight away if he was to serve it, his Kerry career was over. He knew that if he didn't have some kind of impact in the league the likelihood of being brought in was after the league was probably nil."
Fitzmaurice defended the decision to refrain from telling the Kerry players because it was so "sensitive", but said they got strong advice last summer to consult in advance of taking anything outside of the prescribed list.
"We had no worries about the other players. First of all, when the advice was that it had to kept under wraps until the process was finished, we couldn't tell the other players. The circle just gets too big. The circle was tiny. That's why it didn't come out.
"That's no reflection on the players, that's just human nature, and this thing was so sensitive that we had to be very careful with it. But we did refresh them on the matter.
"As the manager of the team, my first concern is the welfare of Brendan O'Sullivan and also the welfare of every player that's inside with us. But that product that Brendan took was not prescribed in any way by us."
Fitzmaurice defended the use of extensive food supplements in the game, stating it wasn't always feasible for busy players to consume the right amounts of nutrients commensurate with the way they train.
"They'd be eating a huge amount of calories to get what's required and that's where the supplement is an add-on to their diet. Particularly for people who are working, it's very hard.
"So all the players in the squad would be advised on this, and entitled to take this stuff, which is perfectly legal. And there's never been a problem."
Fitzmaurice praised the work of Beasley and recalled a trip to Monaghan for last year's league match when the caffeine gels did not come. A County Board officer bought some replacements over the counter, but Beasley did not let the players consume them.
"What do they give you, maybe a quarter of a per cent. My point is that's how careful he (Kevin) is with everything."
Fitzmaurice also clarified that O'Sullivan had a groin/hip injury last summer, as detailed in his press conference, and that he wasn't covering for him.
"I have a lot of failings. The one thing I will not do is lie. I might fudge a question and I might not want to answer it, but I will never lie."
CCCC kept busy with Connolly and Newry
The GAA's Central Competitions Control Committee face a busy afternoon today. They must review Diarmuid Connolly's contact with linesman Ciaran Branagan during Saturday's Leinster quarter-final and the melee which erupted at the end of Sunday's Ulster quarter-final between Down and Armagh.
If a charge of 'minor physical interference with a match official' is laid against Connolly, Dublin are likely to hear about it by tomorrow at the latest, as clarification with the officials may need to be sought. Any suspension would kick-in from the date of the game in this case.
Former Dublin manager Paul Caffrey has come out strongly on the issue, suggesting the player let his team-mates down and deserves a suspension.
Down and Armagh could also face suspensions and fines, judging by the approach that the CCCC has taken to previous incidents of a similar nature.
Armagh have been no strangers to financial penalties in recent times, following their 2014 Ulster quarter-final with Cavan and a challenge match with Dublin in 2015.
Meanwhile, former AFL player Caolan Mooney has described the win over Armagh as the best he has experienced as a Down player.
"It's been too long since we have felt victory in this stadium. A lot of the boys had never won a championship match, most of us had never won an Ulster championship match, so it was a long time coming," he said.
And Mooney said the criticism the team has endured has been "cruel" in recent years.
"I'm just glad to get that behind us. We wouldn't have been able to move on until we got a big championship win like this, so it can only improve from this. We had four or five debutants and this will give them the feel of what championship football is all about it."