Following last weekend’s revelations, John Ivory contends that the GAA must move quickly to stamp out drug use before it ruins our national game.
Last Sunday saw the news break of a failed drugs test by a gaelic footballer from Monaghan. Since then the reaction has been varied, and many details are yet to emerge. Who is this player? What exactly did he take? Will he be issued with a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE)? If the latter was the case, surely we would know about it by now?
It came just days after the Irish Sports Council announced its plan to introduce blood-testing into the GAA, following sports such as athletics, rugby, and cycling.
Many GAA people will read the headline of this article and think, ’’that’s only one guy, one failed test,’’ and will draw the fatal conclusion that there is no drug problem in the GAA.
This is the same conclusion that was made in cycling decades ago, and now, there is a stack of books on the doping culture of that particular sport.
This is not to say that the GAA is riddled with a drug problem. However, there is a danger that by choosing to brush even one failed test under the carpet, the sport could be damaged in the long-run.
Earlier this week double Paralympic gold medallist and former member of the Westmeath senior football backroom staff, Mark Rohan, told independent.ie:
“I’ve watched GAA players at close quarters and they are phenomenal athletes. I’ve been in Croke Park for the big games and they are operating on a different level.
“When you see it up close, they’re on a different planet completely. There is doping in the GAA and that’s for sure.”
One thing that needs to be addressed is what one constitutes as doping, or cheating? Pain relief tablets after games? Injections before games? Using protein to help add bulk in the gym? When does something cross over into the realms of ‘unfair advantage’ and become defined as cheating?
Many will point to the fact that this is only the second failed drugs test by a GAA player in 14 years, the other being Kerry’s Aidan O’Mahony, who received a TUE due to lifelong asthma.
However, in 2014, only 89 tests were carried out on GAA players. The Irish Sports Council say they have to use their resources sensibly, which is understandable, but with increased money around the GAA between TV deals and other sponsorships, vigilance is essential.
When one considers a county team lists twenty-six players in a match day squad, and factor in hurling and football, you have at least 858 players in football alone (33 teams), and 936 at least in hurling (36 teams). That’s without even thinking about underage, ladies football or camogie.
This total is just shy of 1,800 active players representing their respective counties in All-Ireland competition in hurling and football last year, assuming the unlikely event that the same 26 players are named for each game.
One doesn’t need a degree in maths to know that this is a very low number of players getting tested. The Sports Council have come out and said that the GAA is a sport of low risk, which is probably true, but it’s easy to not find a problem when you aren’t looking too hard.
The question remains, what will be done to deal with this case? Player X in Monaghan may just be the unlucky man who got caught. After all, we don’t even test 5% of our athletes.
But, and not to villainize him – he may have a valid reason, he felt he could get away with using steroids, and this is the kind of thought process we need to stamp out before things get worse.
Historically, no sport has had a drugs problem until they end up with a bad one. The steps are being taken here to prevent one in the GAA, but the blood tests must be viewed as only the first step in a long and constant battle against performance enhancing drugs, or else some will exploit our beloved sport.