Ray Walker confirms he won’t appeal four year drugs ban

Carlow footballer tested positive for Meldonium and says it will likely end his career

Carlow footballer Ray Walker was banned for four years. Photo: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Carlow footballer Ray Walker has confirmed to Sport Ireland his intention not to appeal the four-year suspension for an anti-doping rule violation imposed earlier this month.

Despite initially filing an appeal against the reasoned decision which found him guilty of submitting a sample which contained the prohibited substance Meldonium, Walker has now decided not to pursue that appeal: the 35 year-old will remain banned from all GAA activities until February 18th, 2024.

In a statement issued on behalf of the GAA and Sport Ireland, the exact sequence of events has been confirmed, and although Walker did initially file that appeal, it was officially withdrawn yesterday.

It confirmed: “Mr Walker has accepted a period of ineligibility of four years commencing on February 18, 2020. In a doping control test at a training session on February 18, 2020, he provided a sample, which tested positive for the presence of a prohibited substance, Meldonium. Mr Walker was notified of the positive test on March 30. On April 1, Mr Walker accepted the imposition of a 4 year ban and waived his right to a hearing.


“On the April 8, Sport Ireland issued its reasoned decision to Mr Walker pursuant to Article 7.6.4, imposing the 4 year ban. The reasoned decision referred to the right of appeal available to WADA, the GAA and to Mr Walker within 21 days of receipt of this decision by these parties. On April 21st, Mr Walker filed an appeal of the reasoned decision and sought a reduced ban. From media reports on Wednesday, April 28, it appeared that Mr Walker was again accepting a 4 year ban without the need for a hearing and yesterday morning, April 29th, Mr Walker confirmed to Sport Ireland that he had withdrawn his appeal.”

As is the case with any anti-doping sample, his was split into A and B Samples. The A Sample was analysed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accredited laboratory in Cologne. The Laboratory notified Sport Ireland of an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) on 24 March 2020 for Meldonium (on the Prohibited List under Hormone and Metabolic Modulators). Meldonium is a non-specified substance and is prohibited at all times.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Walker blamed an anti-inflammatory medication and a lack anti-doping education for the positive doping sample, even though Meldonium is not a licensed medication in Ireland or most European countries.

The 35-year-old 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), Walker also admitted this was likely to be the end of his playing career: “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.”

Meldonium was the same stimulant at the centre of the tennis player Maria Sharapova’s two-year ban in later 2016: 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 once known to be performance-enhancing.

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 Kerry’s league final defeat to Dublin in 2016, and was later suspended for 21 weeks after it was accepted that he had taken it unknowingly as the supplement’s label did not indicate the presence of the banned stimulant

Thomas Connolly from the Monaghan senior football was 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.

In a statement from Croke Park, the GAA also pointed to their education efforts around anti-doping: “This is the fourth occasion since the introduction of testing of inter-county players began in 2001 that an adverse analytical finding has been recorded against a GAA player. On the previous three occasions, the players in question sought a Hearing from the GAA’s Anti-Doping Disciplinary Hearings Committee. On this occasion, the player has decided to accept the maximum penalty without recourse to a Hearing.

“While it is ultimately the responsibility of individual players to be aware of the provisions of the Irish Anti-Doping Rules, including items on the Prohibited List, the GAA, in conjunction with Sport Ireland, and with the support of the GPA and of backroom personnel involved with all of its inter-county teams, has established an extensive anti-doping education programme for inter-county players over the last number of years.

“The Association has trained a total of 46 anti-doping tutors and makes education available to its players through a combination of face to face workshops or through completion of the GAA’s online anti-doping course. In excess of 2,100 players received formal education in 2019 in this manner. To date in 2020, more than 2,200 players have completed formal education.

“In addition, completion of formal Anti-Doping education before March 31st annually has been a pre-requisite for participation in the Government Support Schemes for inter-county players since 2018. For the record, last year 36 players on the Carlow Football Panel completed formal anti-doping education. As of today, 36 players in the 2020 squad have also done so. While the GAA is disappointed to note another adverse analytical finding, the Association remains committed to upholding the provisions of the Irish Anti-Doping Rules and will continue its ongoing efforts to provide education and advice to its players in this context.”