Kerry confirm footballer Brendan O’Sullivan failed a drugs test

Offence came in wake of 2016 Allianz League final defeat to Dublin at Croke Park

Kerry have confirmed footballer Brendan O’Sullivan (R) missed a drugs test after last year’s Allianz League final. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Kerry have confirmed footballer Brendan O’Sullivan (R) missed a drugs test after last year’s Allianz League final. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

 

Two months after Sport Ireland published their 2016 anti-doping report, the fourth and previously unidentified positive case has only now been revealed to be Kerry footballer Brendan O’Sullivan.

It’s actually now 13 months since O’Sullivan returned the positive sample, following Kerry’s Allianz Football League loss to Dublin on April 24th, 2016 – that game promoted to coincide with the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

O’Sullivan’s violation has since been accepted as being “unintentional”, understood to be caused by a contaminated food supplement, which given the strictly liability rule, still resulted in a reduced ban of six months.

The standard maximum ban that can be applied for any violation is now four years.

O’Sullivan came off the bench in that defeat to Dublin, and was called in for a random in-competition test in the aftermath of the game. He didn’t make any appearance for the rest is the summer but did play for Kerry in the first round of 2017 league, against Donegal.

In a statement issued by the Kerry county board, only after the case of a then unnamed player had been reported in the Sunday Independent, some details of O’Sullivan’s case were confirmed, including that his ban has been served, although still without any exact details of the anti-doping violation.

In March, Sport Ireland published the details of the 2016 anti-doping report, which showed that just under 0.40 per cent of the 1,003 tests carried out, across 25 sports, resulted in a rule violation, and of those, only boxer Michael O’Reilly, who failed an out-of-competition test on the eve of the Rio Olympics, was considered “high-profile”.

The other rule violations, along with O’Reilly, were motocross rider Ross Fanning (cocaine), Paralympics cyclist James Brown (refusing a test), and a still pending case described by a Sport Ireland spokesperson at the time as “nothing earth shattering”.

That, however, is now open to interpretation, given O’Sullivan’s career has also certainly undergone some shattering in the last 13 months. There is at least some risk other GAA players may have been subjected to similar contamination in the meantime, but with the details of O’Sullivan’s case kept under wraps, no such warning has been given.

The details in O’Reilly’s case, likewise claimed to have been caused by a contaminated food supplement, have also yet to be made public. Sport Ireland aren’t expected to make public the details of O’Sullivan’s case for another two weeks, and while this does follow due process, it does raise some questions over the length of time it required, given the potential risk for other players to be caught in a similar position.

The Kerry statement in full read: “On the 24th of April 2016 Brendan O’ Sullivan (Valentia Young Islanders & Kerry) underwent a routine Sport Ireland doping control test following the Allianz League final.The results of the test indicated a rule violation. Brendan O’Sullivan fully cooperated in assisting Sport Ireland.

“The subsequent findings of Sport Ireland accepted that the rule violation was not intentional and the resultant suspension has been served. Sport Ireland is expected to deliver a written decision shortly. All involved with Kerry GAA are delighted to see Brendan back playing football.

“Kerry County Committee and Team Management will be making no further comments until the Sport Ireland report has been issued.”

Of the 1,003 tests carried out in 2016 (separate to the 275 ‘user-pay’ tests), the GAA is still considered low risk: athletics remains by far the most tested sport (250), ahead of cycling (155), then rugby (113), while only 97 tests were carried out in the GAA, and only 44 in soccer.

While overall testing numbers are up, as was the hefty €1.76 million taxpayer spend, the low return of positive tests remains somewhat surprising. As part of the report, Sport Ireland also published a survey where over 40 per cent of those surveyed claim to “personally know others who used banned substances”.

Indeed of those 148 elite sportspeople surveyed, across 14 sports and representing six teams and eight individuals, six per cent admitted they themselves had used a banned substance.

Dr Una May, long-serving member of Sport Ireland’s anti-doping committee, agreed at the time that it painted a more worrying picture of the problem. “The important thing for us is that we weren’t going to hide anything that came out of that,” she said. “We want to be very transparent about it.”

Why the testing in GAA and soccer remains so low, despite such high participation rates, is down to “risk management”, said Dr May.

Still, it appears GAA players are at risk: in June 2015, Monaghan footballer Thomas Connolly was banned for two years after testing positive for a banned substance in February of that year, later revealed to be stanozolol, a prohibited anabolic steroid. He also argued the inadvertent contamination plea, and had the standard four-year ban reduced to two years.

By continuing to withhold all information on such cases until after they have been completed, however, Sport Ireland may actually be subjecting more players to a greater risk. The message, or rather the warning, doesn’t quite appear to be getting across, especially given the still relatively low number of tests in the GAA.

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