The dust is beginning to settle in the Kingdom. After the storm over the Brendan O'Sullivan case, normal service is resuming. Kerry are preparing for a Munster final against Cork, while O'Sullivan has made his return to playing: kicking two points for Kerry in a Munster Junior final earlier this month.
O'Sullivan's world was shaken long before the public recognised the quakes. The story was bracketed by two reports. The first was a news report by the Sunday Independent's John Greene, stating that an inter-county footballer had served a suspension for failing a routine drugs test, having inadvertently ingested a banned substance. The identity of the player was later confirmed by the Kerry County Board as Brendan O'Sullivan.
The second was the full, considered report on the matter by Sport Ireland, which was published on June 1st. In between, however, there was a frenzy of opinion in the media, with a number of former Kerry footballers emerging to defend O'Sullivan's good name.
Marc O'Sé, for example, appeared on The Last Word with Matt Cooper to discuss the story with Paul Kimmage. When host Matt Cooper asked O'Sé to explain how O'Sullivan accidentally failed a drugs test, O'Sé replied, " Look, again, I don't know the ins and outs of that. What I do know, is that Brendan is a good lad".
Aidan O'Mahony referenced this radio debate in his blog on AIB's website, writing that "what I know about this lad is that he’s someone you’d want on your team and he doesn't have a bad bone in his body. I don’t think it’s fair for the likes of Paul [Kimmage] to be commenting on amateur players like this on the radio.
With the saga now at an end, with both player and county now looking ahead to the Munster final, we decided to look back at how Kerry reacted to the issue in a recent interview with Kerry great, Dara Ó Cinnéide.
When asked if he agreed whether this defence of O'Sullivan's character by his former teammate that became a dominant theme in the media denied us a wider debate about doping and supplement use in the GAA, Ó Cinnéide agreed, finding fault with the "he's a nice guy" defence:
I agree totally with that, and that won't be a popular opinion in Kerry I'd say. I remember being on The Sunday Game for five years. Say Mr. X strikes Mr. Y off the ball. The worst thing you can do, and it sounds so ridiculous to say, 'Ah, it's not his form, he's a really nice guy and he doesn't really do that'. But he did it. Look at it. You have to be analytical about it.
But I do think that we lost - by we I mean Kerry GAA people - we lost a bit of ground in the sense that, coming out to say he's a really nice guy - now I'm sure he is, I don't know Brendan from Adam but people in the village speak very highly of him, so that's good enough for me - but at the same time, being a nice guy isn't a good defence. Sport Ireland's report exonerated him.
O'Cinnéide also has no truck for the notion that GAA players, as amateurs, have no incentive to dope, as was floated by some in response to the O'Sullivan story.
'This doesn't happen in the GAA'. Well there's always a first time. We have to be open to that possibility. The drug testing came in toward the end of my career, and I resented the intrusion. Even to the day I retired, I was thinking, 'Ah, come on. This is an unnecessary intrusion in an amateur game. But the moment the Sports Council grants were accepted in the GAA, that was the end of that discussion. Once you sign up as an elite athlete as an inter-county footballer, then look, your blood and urine is open to testing.
The 'nice guy' defence and the amateur player defence was never going to work, and it should never have been put out there. We need to be putting ourselves out there to say that 'this is the cleanest amateur sport in the world, and we are absolutely open to all kinds of testing'.
We need to be absolutely transparent in what we are doing. I think the Brendan O'Sullivan case was a huge learning curve. For me, personally, to see the supplements players are taking. And also, you can't just close ranks and say 'look, we're protecting our own here'. There is a bigger, greater good here: the GAA as an entity. It has to be protected.
I do not defend the whole 'he's a nice guy' notion, and the 'ah, we're amateur players'. Nobody should use that as a defence in GAA, ever.
Regarding the decision of the Kery County Board to name O'Sullivan, O'Cinnéide admits that it "probably wasn't helpful", but he defends strongly Kerry's right to defend an individual player, while stressing that he has "absolute conviction about Eamon Fitzmaurice's integrity as a manager".
That wider debate should have been partly focused on the use of supplements in the GAA. Sport Ireland's considered report on the issue included a list of the supplements taken by O'Sullivan in the 14 days prior to the test. It's quite lengthy:
O'Cinnéide admits to being startled by the length of this list:
I was slow to comment on this before I saw the considered report from Sport Ireland. What surprised me was the amount of supplements being taken by your average inter-county footballer these days.
Maybe I'm in the Stone Age, but I was a classic fish, broccoli and water type of guy. It's a question I'd asked Marc O'Sé, who's involved in management with me now, and is only a year out of the Kerry set-up, 'Jesus Marc, what are ye taking now? He says 'I was taking everything there' - obviously not the contaminant that Brendan O'Sullivan took - but of the eight or nine things listed, Marc said he taken all of them.
I'd say, 'Marc, would you not get that all of that out of a really well-balanced diet?'
[Eamonn] Fitzmaurice gave the best explanation, ahead of the Clare game, when he said that 'these are busy lads. These lads need the supplements. They can't wolf down food and then be expected to do pitch sessions, weights sessions, endurance training, and all that. I get that.
A pity, perhaps, that these issues were not debated further.
Dara was speaking to us to promote his new RTE show, GAA Nua, more details on which can be found here.