Belfast Telegraph

GAA must tackle supplements use in game with education

By Declan Bogue

As we wait for the full judgement on the case of Kerry footballer Brendan O'Sullivan, who admitted to an anti-doping rule violation, what is irrefutable and depressing in equal measures is the behind-the-door nature of how the information emerged.

It is important to note O'Sullivan's defence, that he ingested a stimulant - methylhexaneamine - that was contained in a weight-loss supplement, detected after the league final against Dublin on April 24, 2016.

Then, there was the piecemeal nature of the O'Sullivan suspension. Through the appeals process he was still available for Kerry's 2016 Championship season when it got going from the quarter-final stage, and then also in the club Championship season.

The only action he missed could be easily explained with a limp and a shut mouth.

He was hidden in plain sight while effectively serving no real suspension.

The discreet nature how this all went down was good for the welfare of the player, no doubt, but very bad for the sport.

What nobody could dispute is that the GAA-playing populace has a problem with supplements, and a blind spot for what is legal and not.

For example, last year a Gaelic Players' Association representative called to one Ulster inter-county squad and asked how many players were asthmatic. Three hands went up.

How many had checked their inhalers with the team doctor? None.

One player got back in touch the following day. The inhaler he was using was prescribed by the family GP but contained banned substances.

Getting caught, being labelled in the wrong as an intentional drugs cheat, can be that simple, especially if players are not willing to consult with their team doctor.

So what must the GAA do in order to protect their players?

For a start, they could brush up their own website. Their website has no reference to anti-doping on the home page.

Nor is there a guide when you click into the community and health section. You can only find the GAA's policy on anti-doping after you do a search for drugs and navigate to the second page of results.

Given that the consequences are severe, the GAA need to use this affair to launch an extensive and thorough education process for every county squad.

The workload of the modern player has changed beyond recognition. Getting all the vitamins and proteins you need through a balanced diet is impossible when you are enduring long commutes from college to county training.

When players join a county squad, it is no longer a football team, but a gymnasium culture too.

The pressure to bulk up to play at that level is ever-present. RTÉ and Sky sell the games with slow-mo action reels of huge bodies colliding in combat, all triceps, biceps and lats clenched and bulging.

In that environment, no wonder supplements are thriving.

And while the GAA sit on their hands, more players are going to be caught and have their names tarnished, whether they were naive or not.

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