COMMENT: Due Credit To Those Who’ve Brought Sporting Normality Back To Our Lives

As throw-in nears for the county hurling and football finals, Gavin takes a moment to mark the conclusion of what must be the most remarkable county championships ever held in Clare.

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You’ll be familiar with the idea of a ‘vintage’ of wine, and how some years’ offerings taste better than others.

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I can’t help but think that, if the taste were tied in with the general events of the year, then the 2020 version of your favourite bottle of plonk would taste like a mix of a muddy puddle and turpentine. With a dash of hand sanitiser thrown in of course.

But while 2020 has given us little to be cheerful about, these past few weekends have given us some welcome silver linings, at least in some areas.

The hurlers of O’Callaghans Mills and Sixmilebridge, and the footballers of Kilmurry Ibrickane, Cratloe, Corofin and St. Joseph’s Doora/Barefield will compete in the remaining showpiece finals of the Clare GAA season. The winners of their games will join the likes of Scariff, Banner Ladies and Inagh/Kilnamona who have already been crowned county champions in other competitions, and of course other clubs at various levels and age groups have tasted glory too.

But for once, the old glib saying is true – it IS the taking part that matters, not the winning.

Clubs, players, coaches and the governing bodies overseeing the various Championships in different sports are to be commended for finishing their competitions in the most trying of circumstances. After a summer that started with questions as to whether players would even want to line out, I think these past few weeks have been a success. Everyone involved deserves credit.

It hasn’t been the same, most notably with the absence of fans, and there are financial issues which will have to be addressed. There have also been hiccups along the way, of course, with positive tests leading to the postponement of matches. But that’s happened in other places too, and it’s only happened in the interests of safety. Sport cannot be expected to be immune when wider society has seen an increase in COVID cases.

To my mind, we should be grateful for all of their efforts. I certainly am. Ultimately, whether it’s been via Syl and Co. on Clare FM, or through online streaming, or from a ladder leant up against a GAA ground’s boundary wall, people across the county and across the world have been able to enjoy our sports once more. It’s allowed a sense of normalcy return to our lives for a short time when games are on, or when they’re being digested on the following Monday morning. It’s such a relief for your biggest worry to be whether a full-forward can convert a goal chance, or whether the referee is any good, and not something related to the dreaded virus. It’s such a thrill to be able to feel excitement when your team wins (or when Sam Bennett performs fantastically in the Tour de France). It’s still a pain when your team loses. But it’s a different pain at least!

Bill Shankly infamously said that “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death…it is much, much more important than that.” 2020 shows us how he’s wrong. But football/hurling/camogie/cycling/soccer/rugby/tiddlywinks can also show us that, even now, life is about more than second waves, social distancing and COVID-19.

Sometimes…No. Oftentimes, I need to feel like the end to all of this isn’t all that far away. In my heart of hearts I know that life isn’t going to be ‘normal’ for a while, so I yearn for the moments when it feels like it is. Sport gives me that. For you it can be any number of other things, but grasp onto them whatever they are. Enjoy them.

Live again, even if it’s only until the full-time whistle is blown.

There is full live commentary of this weekend’s Clare Senior and Intermediate Football Finals, and the Clare Senior Hurling Final, on Clare FM.  Monday’s Morning Focus will recap all of the action.