Éamonn Fitzmaurice hits out at Sport Ireland over doping saga

Kerry boss unhappy with length of the process and asks how was it leaked to media?

 Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice is not happy with Sport Ireland. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Inpho

Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice is not happy with Sport Ireland. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Inpho

 

Kerry football manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice has turned any criticism of the handling of Brendan O’Sullivan’s anti-doping violation back onto Sport Ireland, and although accepting the need for drug testing in the GAA, is adamant there is no “culture” of cheating within the Association.

Speaking in Tralee ahead of Kerry’s Munster championship opener against Clare on Sunday, Fitzmaurice was clearly aggrieved over the length of time involved with O’Sullivan’s case, which saw him test positive for the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine (MHA) back on April 24th 2016: this was later identified to have been caused by the caffeine fat-burning supplement Oxyburn Pro Superthermotech, which the player had taken without seeking any advice from the Kerry medical team.

I think we’re lucky in our sport the culture is the opposite of taking drugs

“I’ve been involved in senior intercounty football for 20 years, and I’ve never come across anything with regard to a player taking something to cheat,” said Fitzmaurice. “I have never been offered anything, as a player, or getting involved in the management side.

“But I do know of course the temptation is there, and of course you have to have the regulations in place. Absolutely, it’s a very important thing, it prevents cheating. I think we’re lucky in our sport the culture is the opposite of taking drugs. Maybe you have a tiny, tiny number that will try and do it, but in other sports, you have a tiny, tiny number that are clean.

“But the one thing I will say, it’s grand being held to Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency) standards, but how long the process takes is not very professional. It doesn’t wash with me. I don’t understand how a player can test for something on April 24th, 2016 and the report is released what, June 1st, 2017? And the appeals were all stating the same thing. I think it could certainly be streamlined.”

O’Sullivan, who ended up serving a reduced suspension of just 21 weeks, is now back on the Kerry panel and likely to feature in Sunday’s game: Fitzmaurice was equally critical of the way Sport Ireland informed the player of his anti-doping violation, which resulted from a random sample given after Kerry’s league defeat to Dublin that April 24th.

We had to keep our power dry until the Sport Ireland report was issued

“Brendan got a phone call at 10.0 in the morning, on the May 12th, to say he’d failed a drugs test, and ‘by the way you’re banned for four years, under Wada regulations’.

“He rang me at 10.30, on the day he was informed of the ban, and by the time we’d finished the phone call I knew where the problem was, straightaway. He’d bought this stuff in a health food shop in Cork, and thanks be to God we were able to nail it down, so quickly, so that it didn’t become a more serious thing, that basically he was accused of cheating.

“We felt all along that we had nothing to hide, Brendan had nothing to hide. But there was process there. We had to keep our power dry until the Sport Ireland report was issued, that was out legal advice all along.

“I think there was some commentary this week, were we hiding something, and it’s the exact opposite. We felt all along that it was important that we released a statement, saying what happened, prior to it breaking in the public domain. Our hand was forced, because the report was leaked, and I think that’s a huge question. Why? And how? And who leaked it?

Brendan got another phone call to say he was suspended for seven months. And happy Christmas, by the way

“You’re talking about a player, and a human being, and this thing is leaked before the end of the process. We had a statement ready to go on this last July, but it couldn’t be released, because the process hadn’t finished. I assume because of what goes on in other sports it has to be a very robust process, and you’re guilty until proven innocent, and we accepted that from the start.

“It took us 11 weeks to prove it (the Oxyburn Pro) was contaminated, and Sport Ireland were happy that he hadn’t cheated, was a victim of circumstance, and so on. And that was the end of the matter, we were just waiting for the process to be completed. We heard nothing until the 21st of December, at 5.30 in the evening. Brendan got another phone call to say he was suspended for seven months. And happy Christmas, by the way.”

Despite the apparent risk that other players may have been subjected to, given the fact the culpable supplement wasn’t named at any point during the process, Fitzmaurice always had full faith in the supplement regime recommended by the Kerry nutritionist, Kevin Beasley.

“No, we’d no worries about the other players. First of all, when the advice was it had to kept under wraps until the process was finished, we couldn’t tell the other players. The circle just gets too the big. The circle was tiny. That’s why it didn’t come out. That’s no reflection on the players, that’s just human nature, and this thing was so sensitive that we had to be very careful with it. But we did refresh them on the matter.

“As the manager of the team, my first concern is the welfare of Brendan O’Sullivan and also the welfare of every player that’s inside with us. But that product that Brendan took was not prescribed in any way by us. He went and got this because he didn’t like the taste of the caffeine gels. He bought the thing, this MHA was not listed on the ingredients. He researched every ingredient on line, so he couldn’t have done any more, except the final, crucial step, ask the doctor.”

Brendan O’Sullivan in action against Cork in the McGrath Cup last January. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Brendan O’Sullivan in action against Cork in the McGrath Cup last January. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

He also defended the team’s use of supplements, and the fact O’Sullivan declared eight different products, plus Augmentin, an antibiotic, when subjected to the doping test: “In the Kerry set up, we’ve a ‘food first’ motto, that the lads get their nutritional needs from food, as much as they possibly can. However, because of the nature of how hard they train, they are advised on supplements they can take. Supplement has become a dirty word. Supplement is an add on to their diet, not a replacement. Now I know that’s what Wada advise, but in the real world, particularly for people who are working, it’s very hard. So all the players in the squad would be advised on this, and entitled to take this stuff, which is perfectly legal. And there’s never been a problem.

“We’re tested every time we’re in Croke Park, two players tested. At least once if not twice a year the testers come to us in Killarney, there may be up to four players tested. Brendan’s mistake, and what he said straight away, was that he took it without seeking the advice of Kevin Beasley (the Kerry nutritionist), or our doctor.”

O’Sullivan’s claim as part of his defence, that he received no anti-doping information from the Kerry management, other than to “check out” anything he was taking outside the supplement, was of some concern to Fitzmaurice.

Watch soccer players, rugby players coming out at half-time, you see them with the caffeine gels

“Absolutely, that was definitely a loop-hole, had to be filled, and sorted out. I think we all learned a huge amount from this, but that was absolutely number one. So yeah, that was a harsh lesson for all of us, but a lesson, simple as that.”

The suggestion in Sport Ireland’s report that O’Sullivan’s extensive use of supplements was evidence of “poly-pharmacy” didn’t however appear to concern the Kerry manager.

“Watch soccer players, rugby players coming out at half-time, you see them with the caffeine gels. There is no cloak and dagger here, and maybe if there is realisation this week that ‘oh, they actually take all that stuff’, they do. But it happens in all sports, and it’s legal. As soon as something becomes unacceptable then you’ve to stop, don’t take it. And we’re very careful to make sure absolutely is everything is by the book.

“It’s the move towards professionalism, progress Things develop, things change. The game has changed so much on the pitch since I’ve taken over. Since I was playing, it’s the Stone Age compared to now. It’s progress, for good or for bad.”

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