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One-year ban announced for ex-Shels midfielder due to anti-doping violation

Craig Walsh explains that he took “a small amount of cocaine” resulting from a severe gambling addiction.

Craig Walsh
Craig Walsh
Image: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

IRISH FOOTBALLER CRAIG Walsh has been handed a one-year suspension after committing an anti-doping violation, Sport Ireland and the FAI announced today.

Walsh, a 24-year-old midfielder who played for Shelbourne last season, tested positive for the presence of benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine, after Shels’ 0-0 draw with Cabinteely in the SSE Airtricity League First Division on 5 September, 2015.

However, following an appeal, his suspension was reduced “based on no significant fault or negligence”, so Walsh has been punished with a one-year ban which would otherwise have been longer. The Dubliner has been provisionally suspended since 5 September last, so he’ll be free to resume playing from 4 September, 2016.

The full decision of the Irish Sport Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel is available to read by clicking here.

Walsh released a statement via the Players’ Football Association of Ireland, explaining that the failed test stemmed from cocaine use as a result of an addiction to gambling.

The statement reads: ”It is a source of great regret that I have to make this statement to explain the reasons behind my one-year suspension from playing football.

“In the first instance, I would like to point out that I take responsibility for my actions and wish I could turn back the clock. I can’t and so I feel that I should, at the very least, provide some clarity for my actions which were completely out of character for me.

“I suffer from a severe gambling addiction and have done for some years now. It is debilitating and all consuming and, like most addictions, when it unleashes its full power, it becomes impossible to control. It has also caused me to suffer depressive symptoms as a consequence.

“On the night of 3 September, 2015, I hit rock bottom. I had lost far more money than I possessed and I lost control of my senses. My gambling problem had become more and more acute and I didn’t know where to turn.

“My judgment was impaired to such an extent that I drank to excess and then took a small amount of cocaine which was offered to me during a period when I was unable to exercise any level of self-control. This is the first and last time that I have taken that, or any other, drug, and I regret it hugely.

“I have since attended Dr Colin O’Gara, a consultant psychiatrist, who is an expert in the area of addiction and he has described gambling disorder, of which mine is at the severe end of the spectrum, as a medical illness, comparable to alcohol and drug addiction in its effects. He said ‘the illness is characterised by impairment of judgment’.

“The appeal panel took this into account when determining the length of suspension and I am grateful for their understanding. There is a lack of appreciation in the football community and society as a whole as to the detrimental effects of gambling and I would like my story to be a salutary lesson.

“I have been receiving counselling since the incident which has been organised through the PFA Ireland which I have found very beneficial. I am back on the right track now and I have offered to assist other players and give the benefit of my experience which I would not wish on anyone.

“I hope to be back playing in the very near future after my suspension is lifted on 4 September next and am determined to return a better player. While the experience has been a personal nightmare, it has made me a stronger person with a greater insight to the extent of the issues I had been dealing with.

“I’d like to thank my family for their unwavering support and Shelbourne Football Club for their continued backing. I can’t wait to get back playing and repay the faith shown in me.

“I will be eternally grateful to the PFA Ireland and their solicitor Stuart Gilhooly who have put hours and hours of work into achieving what is the best result that could have been achieved in this very difficult situation.”

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