Joe Brolly speaks on Ethics in the GAA

The use of banned substances by athletes in the GAA is an ever-increasing problem, according to RTE’s GAA analyst, Joe Brolly.

The Ethics and Sport conference, hosted by Trinity College Dublin on Saturday, November 7th, gave the audience an opportunity to hear first hand experiences of ethical dilemmas from former athletes and experts, who are from a range of sporting backgrounds.

The conference sought to discover where sport’s ethics have taken a wrong turning and what has caused the majority of today’s athletes and organisations to behave in such an unethical fashion.

The GAA have come under scrutiny on several occasions in the past, perhaps most recently with regards to the treatment of players who suffer possible concussion on the field of play.

However, one reccurring ethical issue the GAA have suffered from is the use of illicit, performance enhancing drugs. The banning of Monaghan footballer, Thomas Connolly, for the use of anabolic steroids, has highlighted that the problem is real.

In his speech, Brolly spoke of the pressures surrounding the modern day player as their daily lives become “micromanaged” by coaches and their training regimes are comprised of up to ten sessions per week.

These strict routines marry players to their club and county teams. The modern game has developed a “winning at all costs” mentality, which gives an understanding of the pressure players are under in order to be successful.

Former Roscommon footballer, Karol Mannion, was a member of the audience. Mannion, who retired from inter-county football in January 2014, spoke of the pressure put on players, from the grassroots upwards.

“I have never spoken about the reasons that retired me, but one of the reasons was that for the last 2 or 3 years I didn’t really enjoy it. It got too serious. GAA is a runaway train and that’s caused by the must-win mentality”, said Mannion.

The ratio of training sessions to games in the GAA is colossal, with a season averaging out at 14 training sessions per game. In comparison, Premier League footballers have a ratio of 4:1, while both NBA and NFL players in America have a ratio of 3:1.

For the most part, the GAA seems to have moved away from its community-based origins and instead has shifted towards commercialisation. The introduction of Sky TV’s coverage of the GAA has further heaped pressure on the players to perform on a huge stage.

As Tyrone Manager, Mickey Harte, said, “We’re not in the entertainment business, this is a results driven business”. But the GAA is not a business, it is a sport, and it is apparent that its core values, for the most part, have been lost.

Following his talk, I further questioned Brolly on the issue of doping in the GAA. He said, “Well, I spoke to one of the Northern team’s physios and he said there’s a lot worse coming down the tracks. He said he has no doubt that players in that group that he was dealing with were taking things they ought not to be taking.”

Gareth Reynolds

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