People have been trying to expose a hidden doping culture in Irish rugby for years and there is a reason they have come up empty-handed.
Don’t get me wrong, there is the odd anti-inflammatory or painkiller issued by the team doctor before a game, but to class that as a ‘performance-enhancing drug’ is absolute nonsense.
Throughout my thirteen-year career as a professional, I never once heard a player or person mention ‘doping’ as a possible option. I never once saw it. It just simply does not happen in professional rugby in Ireland.
Not only is it morally wrong, but it amazes me that any professional rugby player would cheat like that and expect to get away with it. I was drug-tested roughly twenty times in my career, regardless of the time, both in-competition and out-of-competition. Sometimes it was blood, other times it was urine.
Sometimes we would arrive at training in Ulster and the testers would randomly pick five people. The worst was at Carton House on Ireland camp. I would be awoken to the sound of the testers banging on my hotel room door at 5:30 am.
I remember one time we were training with Ireland in Belfast under Declan Kidney and the testers arrived at the hotel. They took over an exercise studio and requested blood and urine from every single player. It was such a disruption and took so long that Declan had to cancel the training. The entire Irish Rugby team, all tested randomly, and each one of us were as clean as a whistle.
In truth, all they had to do was ask to see me with my shirt off and they would have known I wasn’t on any performance-enhancing drugs.
I cannot comment on the club game in Ireland, I never really played that much club rugby and none in ten years, but I would be surprised if it was happening. I can only presume testing is not as frequent, so cheaters are more likely to get away with it.
I am wholeheartedly against doping and do not believe there is a problem in Irish rugby, but I also do not believe one positive doping test should lead to a lifetime ban, particularly for the younger players. At eighteen and nineteen years of age, we all make poor decisions. We don’t want naive youngsters to get bad advice and end up banned for life.
There are some countries I look at and wonder if younger players ‘go missing’ for a while and return much stronger and faster. It should be noted that I never suspected this in Ireland, but it would be remiss of me to ignore instances in other countries where eighteen-year-olds miss out on the academy, disappear off the radar before returning ten kgs heavier and two seconds faster. For the rest of their careers, they may be clean, but they are reaping the benefits of that phantom year.
To risk it all; your livelihood, dreams, reputations just to add a few kilos to your one-rep max on your bench press is absolute madness. What a ridiculous risk to take, and all for nothing.
Anyone that considers taking performance-enhancing drugs must be incredibly motivated to be the best rugby player that they can be. I would encourage them to channel that motivation into developing the rest of their game. That would provide more benefit than cheating.
It’s rugby, not weight-lifting. If it truly means that much to you, spend time working on your skills, your tackling, aspects of the game where you are weak.
Find the improvements elsewhere. Target 1% increases in five different areas and you’ll be a much better player. Cheating will not solve your problems.