Carlow’s Ray Walker says he did not ‘intentionally take any banned substance’

35-year-old confirms he has accepted four-year doping ban

Blaming an anti-inflammatory medication and a lack of anti-doping education, Carlow footballer Ray Walker has admitted he inadvertently returned a positive test for a banned substance last February, and is accepting the resulting four-year ban.

The 35-year-old Walker only rejoined the Carlow senior panel last November, after a long absence, and didn’t feature in any of their recent championship campaigns.

In a statement released through the Gaelic Players’ Association (GPA) on Tuesday evening , Walker admitted he was the player at the centre of a reported positive doping over the weekend, after testing positive following a doping test at a Carlow training session on February 18th, conducted by the Sport Ireland, the banned substance understood to be the stimulant meldonium.

Walker also admitted this was likely to be the end of his playing career, and while not yet identifying the banned substance himself, Sport Ireland do make considerable anti-doping educational resources available across all sports.

In a statement he confirmed the following: “My name is Ray Walker. I am 35 years-old and returned to the Carlow senior football panel last November following a long absence. I am the player who is at the centre of recent reports about an anti-doping violation.

“In light of the four-year ban which I now have to serve, which ends my inter-county career, and most likely my club involvement given my age, I want to put the following on the record.

“I did not intentionally take any banned substance. Anything that was found in my system was there completely unintentionally. I cannot explain for sure how the substance came to be in my system but I was taking anti-inflammatories for a lower stomach issue around the time of the test.

“I am accepting the four-year ban because I want this episode over and done with and, at 35, even a lesser ban would still mean I was unlikely to ever return to playing. It is not an admission of intentional wrong doing on my part in any way.

“Finally, from the time that I re-joined the Carlow panel in November to the time the test took place in February, I did not receive any anti-doping training or education. I will be making no further comment on this matter and would appreciate that the media would respect my privacy in this regard.”

Meldonium was the same stimulant at the centre of the tennis player Maria Sharapova’s ban. Used to treat angina and heart problems, it was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (Wada) banned list in January 2016, having been on their monitoring programme throughout 2015.

Walker is the third GAA player to return a positive test in recent years. In May 2017, it emerged that Kerry footballer Brendan O'Sullivan had failed a Sport Ireland anti-doping test, going back to April 2016, which he later blamed on the consumption of the Falcon Labs Oxy Burn Pro.

Oxy Burn Pro was found to contain traces of methylhexaneamine (MHA), the banned substance which O’Sullivan tested positive for. O’Sullivan failed a test in Croke Park in the wake of the Kingdom’s league final defeat to Dublin, and was later suspended for 21 weeks after it was accepted that he had taken it unknowingly.

Monaghan football Thomas Connolly was also banned for two years after testing positive for a banned substance in early 2014. Connolly admitted taking stanozolol, a prohibited anabolic steroid, although he contested the the pills had not been correctly labelled.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics