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FAI defends deal with doctor's firm for cardiac tests

Soccer doctor a director in company with two FAI contracts

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DIRECTOR: Ireland team doctor Dr Alan Byrne. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

DIRECTOR: Ireland team doctor Dr Alan Byrne. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

DIRECTOR: Ireland team doctor Dr Alan Byrne. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The FAI has strongly defended a second contract with a firm which has close ties to the association's medical director, Dr Alan Byrne.

Last month, the Sunday Independent reported that Advanced Medical Services won a lucrative Covid-19 testing contract for the League of Ireland. It has now emerged that the same company has been contracted to carry out cardiac screening of boys and girls as part of the Mrs Brown's Boys FAI heart care programme.

Dr Byrne, the association's long-standing and respected medical director, is also a director with Advanced Medical Services.

The FAI confirmed that Dr Byrne was responsible for developing the heart care programme, which had screened 1,676 boys and girls from the under-age national leagues since it began in January of last year until it was temporarily suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, a spokesperson for the association said that Dr Byrne, who is also medical director with Advanced Medical Services, had not been involved in the selection process.

"One other company provided a price for the screening programme while a third company discussed the proposal but didn't proceed," said the spokesperson. "Dr Alan Byrne was not part of the selection process and made his links to AMS known to all at the very first meeting to launch this programme."

The spokesperson said that comedian Brendan O'Carroll, the star and creator of Mrs Brown's Boys, "personally oversaw the appointment of Advanced Medical Services to carry out the screenings".

Mrs Brown's Boys committed €430,000 over six years to the screening programme, which is designed to protect children and adolescent footballers from sudden cardiac death.

The spokesperson confirmed that clubs liaised with AMS to organise screenings for their players but that "all bills for screenings were paid directly by the FAI to AMS".

The FAI says that 85 young footballers have already been referred for cardiology assessment and treatment since the programme began, including two teenagers who underwent successful surgery and treatment.

Prior to its temporary suspension, the programme was due to be expanded to include basic life support training for football volunteers, conducted by a company called Heartsafety Solutions.

Dr Byrne has been involved in Irish football for many years and is currently the Republic of Ireland team doctor. He is also a member of a government expert group which was set up to help Ireland's sporting bodies prepare for a return to sporting activity.

He has been a director of Advanced Medical Services since October 2013. The Cork-based firm provides onsite medical services to schools, sporting organisations and companies.

Four clubs - Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Derry City - were part of a pilot-testing programme as part of the FAI's plan to restart the League, with AMS carrying out six rounds of tests at all the clubs on players and staff. Almost 900 tests were carried out and all results were negative.

If required, AMS is also in line to test players and staff at all League of Ireland clubs when the league resumes. Dr Byrne, however, has said that he is "optimistic" that testing may not now be required.

Sunday Independent