A Gaelic games quick rightly closed down amid the COVID-19 outbreak it gives us all times to take stock.
Liam Sheedy and his Tipperary hurling team returned from their five-day training camp in Spain in the middle of last week. The reigning All-Ireland champs, and the biggest spenders in the GAA in 2019, tossing out €1,776, 975 on their teams in total, decided to get 2020 off on another expensive note.
But their week in the heavily-hit coronavirus region Costa Blanca led them straight to 14 days of self-isolation when they all got back to their homes.
Like everyone else in Ireland, and throughout the world, the Tipp lads do not know what the future holds.
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This summer was due to be historic for the team. In seven attempts in the last 55 years, they have failed to successfully defend the Liam MacCarthy Cup. In that same period of time, Kilkenny has managed such a high-wire act seven times; Cork three.
It was all about 2020 for Tipperary.
They’ll not see one another for the fortnight. They’ll not be back training (f they’re lucky like the rest of us) till the end of the month.
More likely, they’re looking at two or three months, minimum, of inactivity. No team training, just individuals following very exact fitness guides.
But with no games – nobody else to puck a ball about the place with, only a wall – Tipp will be as rusty as everyone else when the GAA gets the green light to get back into action.
That’s going to be close to the end of the summer (again, fingers and toes crossed!)
Then, if the GAA wants to get some competitions completed after having to abandon the NFL and NHL mid-stride, counties will be afforded one month of team training.
The championships will be played off in double quick time in September and October on a fast knockout basis. It’s not going to be ideal.
But if we can manage that, everyone will be thankful. By then, across Ireland and the rest of the world, we will be reviewing a sports landscape left fully abandoned.
No Masters tournament in Augusta, no European soccer championships across Europe, no Olympic Games (once the Japanese government realizes that if they go ahead with it, they’re going to win all the gold, silver and bronze themselves, because nobody else is going to turn up folks!)
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The Europeans and the Olympics will not be able to get squeezed into the calendar before the end of the year – they’ll be pushed down the road for12 months.
We’ll all survive.
Those among us who have to wait on the sidelines before being allowed to compete, and those of us who love to be thrilled by sporting excellence.
The words of the great Liverpool team boss, Bill Shankly, who once insisted that sport “is not a matter of life and death…it is much more important than that!” are being left looking pretty foolish, if not absurd, right now.
Fighting the virus possibly of all viruses has our complete attention, and that is right. There’s widespread panic, and far too much drama, attached to what we are seeing and experiencing, but that is also a good thing, I guess.
If the coronavirus does not get us – and it does not look be carrying a completely devastating punch – then the next vexed virus, or a super virus on its tail, will have us in its sights.
It’s right that we are all stopping in our tracks, pretty much. How we survive the next 12 months will tell us a lot about ourselves as humankind.
Bigger battles lie ahead.
We’ll be able for them too. We’re able for a whole lot more than we ever imagine. As individuals and as communities, once horror and devastation descend upon us, we instinctively turn into Marvel comic book heroes of one kind or another.
Most of us do! We react, we change, we fight, we dig and dig and dig deeper and we find that we can fight forever.
We all discover that within us we have the sort of heroic abilities and instincts that we normally only associated with those we cheer on – whether we are viewing and applauding our greatest politicians and religious figures, business people with the deepest of hearts, and also, of course, our most precious heroes in the sporting arenas.
But, let’s get back to sport and sport only.
With little money to spend, and with everyone reduced to compete on a more level playing field than ever before, we might also see the sport at its purest. Whenever we do get to watch some sport again.
This will be as important within the GAA as any other sport worldwide. Because the GAA has, over the last decade or two, turned into a rich man’s game. All of the GAA’s games are being dominated by the biggest teams and the biggest counties with the biggest spend.
The Dublin team we will eventually see get to defend its All-Ireland football title in 2020 will not be as well equipped and supported as the flashiest and most brilliantly designed car on the Formula One grid.
The strange and fearful year we are living through will partly strip Dublin, and also Tipperary in hurling, of all monetary advantages. It will also strip both teams of their army-like backup personnel.
It will make both Dublin and Tipp look more like every other team out there.
Of course, Dublin and Tipp also have the most talented bunch of players in each code, but without all of the other add-ons and expensive advantages, their opponents will fancy their chances more than ever before.
We didn’t want to live through these times. But we are quickly accepting the lives we are now leading.
We are looking at ourselves afresh. Wondering. Thinking long and hard. We’ll also decide that we need to change some things about our lives.
Not living for every sporting weekend will do us no harm whatsoever.
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