July 27, 2017, 1:37 a.m.
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Martin Breheny

July 27 2017 2:30 AM

It's safe to say that if any relationship counsellors have gaps in their diaries, they might find it profitable to contact the GAA and Sport Ireland.

While it would be an exaggeration to claim that the organisations are at war, there's certainly a cool wind swirling between Croke Park and Blanchardstown.
The doping case involving Kerry footballer Brendan O'Sullivan is at the heart of the issue, with the GAA strongly rejecting points made in a recent letter from John Treacy, CEO of Sport Ireland, dealing with aspects of how the process was handled.
Treacy asserted that a "county board taking the side of a player and providing assistance to the player to discharge legal and other fees in order to defend the case", conflicts with the obligation on the GAA to prosecute the case vigorously.
Effectively, Sport Ireland are unhappy with the wide range of support offered to O'Sullivan by the Kerry county board while the GAA were charged with prosecuting the case.
The matter was discussed at a recent meeting of the GAA's Management Committee, which did not accept Treacy's points.
It's understood that he was informed of the committee's insistence that the GAA had acted properly at all times.
The O'Sullivan case arose when he failed a routine doping test after the Kerry-Dublin Allianz League final in April 2016 but did not become public until last May when the Sunday Independent broke the story.
Secrecy had prevailed throughout a lengthy process, during which O'Sullivan was initially banned for seven months after Sport Ireland accepted it was a 'contaminated product case' where he 'bore no significant fault or negligence'.
O'Sullivan did not accept the sanction and the matter was referred to the GAA's Anti-Doping Hearings Committee, which imposed a 26-week ban.
He appealed that decision to the Irish Sport Anti-Doping Disciplinary panel, which cut the suspension to 21 weeks.
O'Sullivan could have been hit with a four-year ban but offered a robust defence at all hearings, where it was accepted that his breach of the anti-doping rules was unintentional.
However, since strict liability (responsibility for the presence of any banned substance in the system rests with the individual regardless of the circumstances) applies, O'Sullivan still had a case to answer.
He had tested positive for methylhexaneamine (MHA), a substance he took on the advice of a friend.
Kerry nutritionist Kevin Beasley provided the panel with a caffeine gel, which had been checked for prohibited substances and contamination, but O'Sullivan disliked the taste.
He substituted the gel with a caffeine tablet without clearance from Kerry's medical team, which led to the adverse finding against him after the 2016 league final.
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice was highly critical of the entire process - and Sport Ireland in particular - which he dealt with in detail prior to Kerry's Munster semi-final clash with Clare last month.
He insisted there was a perfectly innocent explanation for O'Sullivan's breach of the anti-doping code and while he accepted that rules had been broken, he was unhappy with a range of issues in the lengthy process.
He said that O'Sullivan got a phone call a few weeks after failing the initial test and was told he had failed a drugs test and would be banned for four years.
The case proceeded through the various stages until December last when Fitzmaurice claimed O'Sullivan was told in a phone call four days before Christmas that a seven-month ban had been imposed.
"We felt all along that we had nothing to hide. Brendan had nothing to hide either but the process was there. We had to keep our powder dry until the Sport Ireland report was issued. That was our legal advice all along.
"There was some commentary that we were hiding something when it was the exact opposite. We felt all along it was important that we released a statement, saying what happened, prior to it breaking in the public domain.
"Our hand was forced because the report was leaked. That leaves a huge question. Why? And how? And who leaked it?" said Fitzmaurice.
He was also critical of the length of time the process took.
"It's grand being held to WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) standards but how long the process takes is not very professional. It doesn't wash with me," he said.
It was assumed that the matter had been closed but Sport Ireland's letter to the GAA, pointing to a potential conflict of interest in how the case was handled, suggests that underlying tensions still exist.
It's understood that Sport Ireland were deeply unhappy over Fitzmaurice's trenchant criticisms. Whether that had any bearing on their decision to write to Croke Park is unclear.
Sport Ireland's communications manager David Gash said yesterday that they would not comment on individual cases or private correspondence. The GAA also declined to comment.
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