FOOTBALLER FROM LATTON SUSPENDED FOR DOPING
Michael Fisher Northern Standard Thursday 18th June p.1
A GAA footballer from County Monaghan, Thomas Connolly from Latton, has received a two-year ban following an anti-doping violation. His case was reviewed by the GAA’s Anti-Doping Hearings Committee. It took the view that the violation that occurred earlier this year was not intentional and therefore not subject to the standard four-year suspension. As a result, the player is to be suspended from club and county Gaelic football for two years. He has leave to appeal the decision within 21 days.
Connolly was a trialist with the Monaghan county squad at the time he underwent out-of-competition testing in February. He provided a sample which tested positive for the presence of a prohibited substance, stanozolol, an anabolic steroid prohibited under the WADA code. An argument advanced on his behalf at the hearing was that his status as a trial player brought him outside the Irish Sports Council’s jurisdiction to test. The tribunal, however, determined that all players at all levels and all age groups within the GAA are subject to the ISC jurisdiction to test. The committee was chaired by Belfast lawyer Adrian Colton QC, who was joined by former Dublin manager Dr Pat O’Neill and the former GAA President Nickey Brennan.
The anti-doping hearing committee stated: “We simply do not accept that lack of knowledge by an inter-county player would justify him/her being excluded from anti-doping rules which are so well established.”
Connolly was given tablets by a “work colleague” after complaining of “pain and stiffness” as a result of the training he was exposed to as a new member of Malachy O’Rourke’s Monaghan football panel.
The 23-year-old was a non-playing member of the Monaghan Minor football panel for one year. He was involved with the county Under-21 team for two years, playing one championship match before the county was knocked out of the competition. He was invited to attend training and to become part of the Monaghan Senior county football panel from November 2014 until March 2015, when he played three practice matches. He also played one full half of a McKenna Cup match and made two brief appearances as a substitute in the remaining Monaghan games in that competition. He was named on the senior panel for one National League game and continued to train with the team. On February 13th at the Cloghran training grounds he was subjected to an out of competition test by the Irish Sports Council.
A month later Connolly was informed of an adverse analytical finding and told he was being charged with an anti-doping rule violation. The player admitted he had taken tablets and at the hearing produced the actual container they were in. In written submissions and in oral evidence to the committee, “he indicated that he was given a container with tablets by a work colleague, whom he named…He took 4 tablets per day – 2 in the morning and 2 with his dinner for 4 or 5 days and stopped using the tablets a day or two before he was tested because they were of no benefit to him and he continued to feel pain…and stiffness as a result of the training he had undertaken.”
Despite Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke and county board chairman Padraig Sherry testifying that Connolly had not been informed of anti-doping rules, it was established that each player is responsible for educating himself about banned substances.
The committee’s report continued: “As Mr O’Rourke said in his evidence – ‘I do understand that players are subject to anti-doping rules, yes,’
“Question: Okay, and do you think that they have a responsibility to make sure that they don’t take steroids, for example?’
“Answer (O’Rourke): ‘Yeah.’”
Connolly’s testimony and legal argument by his barrister, Aaron Shearer, convinced the committee that the player unknowingly took steroids and that his breach of the rule was not intentional. In cross-examination, the GAA’s barrister David Casserly “strongly challenged” this claim by Connolly.
“Whilst we accept that his conduct falls short of recklessness, we consider that there is a high degree of negligence in this case,” read the ruling, which the committee said was a very finely balanced decision. That allowed Connolly to receive a two rather than four year ban. As he is a member of the GAA, the committee stated that the Irish Sports Council had a right to test Connolly.
The finding states that the lawyer for the GAA had “urged the Committee to draw an adverse inference from the athlete’s failure not to call evidence from the colleague who supplied him with the tablets. However we were not willing to do so and did not want to speculate on the many potential reasons why he did not attend the hearing.”
The committee also expressed its concern about the apparent lack of understanding and application of the anti-doping rules and processes at county level in this case.
“Whilst we were impressed by the evidence of Messrs [Feargal] McGill and [Ruairi] Harvey [both of the GAA player welfare] in respect of anti-doping education at central level, we would urge the GAA to intensify its work to ensure that all players, county officers, coaches, managers, medical and allied sports science personnel and players representatives are fully cognisant of their obligations under the Association’s anti-doping rules”, the committee stated.
In a statement the Gaelic Players Association said throughout the investigation and hearing, it had provided the player with personal and professional support and would continue to do so, although he is not a member of the players’ body.
The Association said GPA members were regularly informed that they may be selected for testing and that the ISC Anti-doping Code is enshrined in the GAA rulebook. All stakeholders within the games had a responsibility to ensure that players, particularly new panellists, were aware of the Anti-Doping Code and that the Association continued to support a culture of drug-free sport within Gaelic games.
The statement added: “We would appeal to everyone to respect the privacy of this young player and his family at this difficult time. We would also appeal to the media, in relation to this issue, to respect the preparations of the Monaghan players and management in advance of their important championship game.”