The Offload: James Cronin’s voice needs to be heard if we are to move on

Mr Versatile set to bow out . . . Pro 14 boss and the non-denial denial

This is the worst time imaginable to have tested positive for a banned substance. There is no sport to turn the page. No arrival of cheating Saracens or debates over the Sexton captaincy to distract our focus. Nothing for Sport Ireland or Wada to do but fully investigate the lingering spectre of doping. Maybe they could pool their resources?

World Rugby might take up the baton if they were not up to their gills in controversy. So, they will probably ignore an increasing clamour for the Cronin decision to be appealed, but Sport Ireland chief executive John Treacy must grasp the reins. Not necessarily to prove that the Munster prop doped – the EPCR hearing found he did so in error due to highly coincidental circumstances at his local pharmacy – but to ask the 29-year-old some questions. To his face. Zoom to zoom.

Nobody has done this yet. Not the independent judicial officer Antony Davies and not, as far as we know, the IRFU. Lansdowne Road's internal investigation was satisfied with Davies's conclusion that Cronin "bears at least some fault" to get a one-month suspension when rugby is cancelled.

Cronin’s voice needs to be heard. Just to explain, on the public record, how he came to take nine tablets containing corticosteroids in two dosages inside 18 hours. And legal argument needs to dig a little deeper before an anti-doping panel, selected by the Lausanne Court of Arbitration for Sport, reaches a conclusion.


Only then will Cronin and Irish rugby be able to move cleanly on.

While we’re at it, what gives with Aphiwe Dyantyi? The Springbok winger tested positive for three banned substances in July 2019. A statement of defence was submitted last January. Not a peep from the obedient South African media. Cronin’s case raised eyebrows after the EPRC took five months to run from pillar to post (presuming the aforementioned bodies do not appeal before May 11th).

McFadden bows out

Expert medical opinion dampening rugby's ability to return in 2020 does not bode well for Fergus McFadden and Rob Kearney finishing off glittering careers with their boots on.

Both Clongowes old boys are out of contract this summer. McFadden is retiring; Kearney is waiting to see what happens.

The former continually exceeded expectations since first glimpse as a schoolboy. The latter is the most decorated player in the history of Irish rugby, something we suspected would happen when he leaped to prominence in the 2004 Leinster schools cup final.

McFadden was the embodiment of work ethic at the core of Leinster’s two European Cup winning squads at either end of a decade.

"You are never going to come across a player that's more physically committed to delivering for his team-mates," said Leinster coach Leo Cullen of McFadden. "That's what set him apart."

Both men linked the generations, but Kearney soared onto the global stage during the 2009 Lions Test series in South Africa before igniting an Indian summer on that momentous Chicago day in 2016 when the All Blacks were felled.

Joe Schmidt went back to the bullish McFadden, seeing the ultimate squad man, about as many times as the former Ireland coach was unable to replace Kearney with Jordan Larmour, or anyone for that matter, such was his specific expertise at fullback.

“Fergus is one of the great characters we have had in the group,” Cullen added. “We will miss him dearly.

“I remember him coming on to make his debut in 2007 against Cardiff. He got yellow carded straight away. So I liked him from the off.”

Anayi’s non-denial denial

The 'non-denial denial' entered the zeitgeist, and became the first port of call for journalism students, with Robert Redford's 'All the President's Men' (we know, we know Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did the reporting and wrote the book but it was Redford who got the 1976 film made).

Anyway, we heard one on Friday. The first few words by Pro 14 chief executive Martin Anayi to The Irish Times offered an unambiguous denial that the season is over. Chris Foy, rugby scribe for the Daily Mail, had reported the "inevitability" of an Ireland, UK, Italy and South African league being unable to finish in 2020.

“Not true,” Anayi replied, only to follow up with: “Very much planning on completing the season potentially in truncated format depending on travel restrictions.”

The travel plan was ruled out by Dr Cillian De Gascun, the virologist advising the Irish Government, who does not currently see how next year's Six Nations is going to happen.

Anayi, an approachable and quotable sports executive, is still aiming for October playoffs with South African teams relocating to the UK or “we will play without them” and games “behind closed doors in controlled environments”.

Lots of escape clauses there, while De Gascun offers some much needed clarity: “I don’t think [the sporting bubble theory] is feasible.”

By the numbers: 28-23

The North American vote was split as the Pacific Islanders helped re-elect Bill Beaumont as World Rugby chairman over Agustín Pichot.

Word of mouth

“I certainly don’t see the November internationals being played but I would be nice to see the Six Nations in some shape or form next year, be it without fans or with a reduced capacity. I think that is really difficult. In my own head I would like to think it can happen but I don’t see how at this point.”

Dr Cillian de Gascun, virologist advising the Irish government and Leinster schools cup winner with Terenure in 1992.