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Drug ban a tough lesson: O'Rourke

By Declan Bogue

This win put a nice end to a week that troubled Monaghan GAA, with the revelation that it was county panellist Thomas Connolly who had failed a drugs test earlier in the season.

The Latton man was handed a two-year ban after testing positive for the banned anabolic steroid stanozolol, and after a week in which Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke politely declined most interview requests he was able to address the issue after the win over Fermanagh.

"I don't want to talk too much about it because it's possible there's an appeal and all the rest," he said.

"The one thing we would have been strong on is that Thomas from the start wasn't educated in any way. He did take something innocently and he has paid a big price for it and his family and everything else."

Outlining the difficulty in this instance, O'Rourke added: "Drugs in sport in a wider context, nobody wants that, and neither does Thomas, but it is a tough one for him. I think that the education he got wasn't enough when there is such a harsh sanction for it.

"I don't really want to go into it, because after a match like that you can say the wrong thing, but I just feel it's so delicate for Thomas. He is a good fella and he just made an unintentional mistake and he has paid a big price, unfortunately."

Asked if the Monaghan county board had to learn lessons about procedures and testing, O'Rourke made the not unreasonable point: "I am not sure, I think the GAA at large have to learn a big lesson. If the sanctions are so harsh then that's the way it is. Once you come under the World Anti Doping Agency guidelines, the sanctions are harsh.

"I think it's a case that everybody has to be aware of exactly what the regulations are, what's banned and what's not banned. It's a process of education that has to be given to all players."

As for the football, it was as you might expect from Monaghan, who benefitted hugely from Ryan McCluskey's red card to take total control of events in Breffni Park.

Despite that, the Derrylin native admitted to strange feelings about taking on his home county. "There's no doubt. I grew up in Fermanagh, managed them, played for them and work in Fermanagh. You don't discard those things lightly, I have great regard for all those players, the management team and the backroom team as well," he said.

"We knew they would come up and put up a big fight here, we were just focused with trying to get Monaghan through, there is no point saying otherwise."

And he added his customary warnings about bigger challenges ahead, when they face the winners of Donegal or Derry in the Ulster final.

"Overall, it was good enough to get through, we are delighted to be back in the third Ulster final in a row, all credit to the players, the backroom and everyone involved, but we know we have a lot of work to do."

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