Gavin’s a big sports fan, and this week – like many in Clare – he’s turning his attentions towards the resumption of GAA Championship action here.
This week saw further celebrations of Jack Charlton, on the day of his funeral in Newcastle.
While I was uncomfortable with some of the scenes of people coming too close together in Ballina and Walkinstown, I couldn’t help but admire the affection that so many people still clearly have for Big Jack. There is no one else, surely, who’d be celebrated that way thirty years after their biggest achievement, and I don’t just mean in Ireland.
I never met Jack. I didn’t know him. And yet when I heard he had died, I was truly saddened. My formative years were in ‘his’ Ireland, when our country was celebrating and celebrated for our achievements on the soccer field. In a way that I am too young to truly appreciate, his team gave the country something to be proud about, when it was badly needed.
He made people happy.
I’m not going to make this column about Jack. There are more knowledgeable and more articulate writers who have already done a better job than I ever could on that front. But in trawling through YouTube and seeing the scenes of euphoria from Jack’s heyday, as well as this week’s celebrations of him, I was struck by how much we could use a ‘Big Jack boost’ in the Ireland of 2020.
We shouldn’t celebrate in the same way now, of course. But what I’m yearning for is a lift, or a boost. I want something to give us pride, and for our spirits to be raised. By heck, we need it.
Sport does that, if only for fleeting moments. Away from Italia 90, I bet you remember where you were when we gathered around TVs to watch Katie Taylor’s coronation in London 2012. And who could ever forget the scenes of 1995, 1997 and 2013 here in Clare when our hurlers won All-Ireland titles? And in communities throughout the county, there are loads of local examples too of sporting successes that allowed people to smile and stick out their chests.
And that’s why I’m happy to see the return of the Clare GAA Championships this weekend. While there are no fans at the games, at least for now, there are teams throughout the county that have an incredible opportunity. They can make people happy.
In a miserable year that most of us would probably love to forget, there will be glorious days for two Clare communities when they lift Jack and the Canon later in the year. Different? Yes. But still joyous. After that happens, let’s hope for glorious days for all of the county when the inter-county action returns. And above all else, let’s hope that these games can continue to happen and that the dreaded coronavirus can be truly kicked to touch.
Sport isn’t important, I know. Except it is.
Sport shows us that there is life outside of war and famine and hardship and, yes, COVID-19. This weekend, when they gather around to listen to Syl and his analysts, on radio or online, it will be a release and an escape for many people whose attentions will turn from away from daily death tolls and case numbers, to a different scoreboard altogether.
If I were a manager this weekend (be glad I’m not, trust me), that’s what I would talk about to my team before they go out to play. GAA sides represent and embody their communities, but this year they are playing for more than a county title – they’re playing to give us something to cheer about, something to enjoy, something to make us happy, if even for a short while. I, for one, will be glad to have that opportunity again.
Let the games begin.