Monday 18 November 2019

Paul Kimmage: 'Jamie Heaslip has finally spoken... but forgive me if I was expecting more'

TV analyst and Former Ireland rugby player Jamie Heaslip. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
TV analyst and Former Ireland rugby player Jamie Heaslip. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

"The semi-final was played at Lansdowne Road - effectively a home game - against a Munster team that had been somewhat fortunate to beat Perpignan in Dublin in their quarter-final the day after our French success. We were the favourites, probably on the basis that if we could stand up to the Munster pack as we had to Toulouse, then our backs were clearly superior to theirs. There was also a feeling that, like us, they tended to choke in the big games, even if in their case it had been in finals rather than semi-finals."

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'All In' - Jamie Heaslip (with Matt Cooper)

In his recently published autobiography, Jamie Heaslip paints a vivid portrait of the 2006 Heineken Cup defeat to Munster at Lansdowne Road. He remembers the week of the game and being furious that some of his team-mates had sold their allocation of tickets to Munster fans.

He remembers the day of the game and the journey to the ground and seeing lads he knew from Kildare wearing Munster jerseys. He remembers just before the game and his sense of shock - 'What the hell is going on here?' - when he ran out onto the pitch and saw the sea of red in the stands.

He remembers the nuts and bolts of the game - the control of Ronan O'Gara and Peter Stringer at half-back, Paul O'Connell's domination of the lineout and the relentless drive of the late Anthony Foley. And he remembers - despite the defeat - playing reasonably well and feeling that it wouldn't hurt his ambition to play for the national team.

Read part one here: Paul Kimmage: 'A letter, the Churchill Cup and Jamie Heaslip - The curious case of the positive test'

But it's what Heaslip forgot that has prompted his apology this week and the statement issued via his publisher, Gill: "In my recently published Autobiography 'All In', I mistakenly referred to being the subject of a Doping Control test at the Churchill Cup, which took place in Santa Clara, USA (pool games) and Edmonton, Canada (finals) June 3-17, 2006 . . . In fact, the test I was referring to took place in April 2006 (approximately 2 months before the Churchill Cup)."

Four days before the defeat to Munster.

Okay, so he mixed up his dates and got his continents wrong. What's the big deal?

Well, in the version presented by Heaslip in All In, it was what happened after he was notified by the Sports Council that stunk:

"I opened (the letter) and to my horror it said that my A sample had failed a drugs test after my last game before the holiday, at the Churchill Cup in San Francisco when I was playing for Ireland A. Upon confirmation of receipt of this notification my second, or B, sample would be opened and examined, and a decision would be made as to whether further measures were to be taken against me."

There's a kicker:

"The letter didn't tell me what I was supposed to have in my system."

He phones a friend: "When we got home, I went and made my first phone call to Professor Arthur Tanner, at the time the doctor with Leinster . . . I called him and he was incredibly calm, telling me that the negative finding could be caused by a number of different things that I didn't know about."

The substance is revealed: "Basically, the way the system works is that the testers, once they open a sample, look for what are called 'markers' that alert them to the possible use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. One of those markers is the individual's testosterone to epitestosterone ratio. And that, it turned out, was where my problem lay."

The problem is solved: "Thankfully, in my case an explanation was quickly established. The ratio levels that constituted a positive sample had been changed on 1 January that year, down from either 5:1 or 6:1 to 4:1. Dr Tanner's hope was that the figures from this latest reading would prove to be consistent with my measures in all of the previous readings, before the base was changed on the test - and they were."

So, to summarise: the Irish Sports Council (now known as Sport Ireland) had informed Heaslip he had tested positive, delivered a bundle of his previous samples for the Leinster team doctor to analyse, accepted the doctor's conclusion that Heaslip was clean, and - as a result - had not referenced the case in their annual anti-doping report.


Read part two here: Paul Kimmage: 'I have more questions for Jamie Heaslip... but will he answer them?'

We asked Matt Cooper (Heaslip's ghost-writer) if - in the course of writing the book - he had seen any correspondence between Heaslip and the Sports Council? "I'm not saying anything about it," he said. We asked the Sports Council: "You need to ring (Heaslip), not us, it's his personal information," they said. We made several attempts to contact Heaslip.

For two weeks he ignored us.

On Thursday, Gill contacted the Sunday Independent, sent a statement from Heaslip and copies of two letters he received from the Irish Sports Council in 2006. In the first, dated July 4, there's no mention of the A sample, B sample, failed drugs test or the Churchill Cup, referenced in the book. It simply states that a sample he provided on April 20 had shown "a ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone greater than the threshold" and would require "further investigation to determine a result".

That's an atypical finding, not a failed test, so Heaslip was free to continue playing.

In the second letter, dated November 20, the Irish Sports Council confirm that Heaslip is good to go but not for the reasons given in the book. No, they've turned up unannounced and tested him again and concluded that "although the testosterone to epitestosterone ratio was elevated in the sample provided by you on the 20th of April, the analysis of the Samples collected from you on the 28th of July 2006 and the 18th of September 2006 rendered consistent results."

So what exactly was the game here?

In his statement Heaslip says: "I apologise for the unintentional error of detail in the book, on the timing and location of the tests and the date of my return from holiday back in 2006, and am happy to clarify the matter."

But he's supposed to be a member of the World Rugby Anti-Doping Advisory Committee. And the last time we checked, Matt Cooper was a great journalist.

So forgive me for expecting more.

Read Jamie Heaslip's statement in full: Jamie Heaslip apologises for 'unintentional error of detail' after confirming that he did not fail drug test

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