2020 – the year of the Asterisk

By Brendan McTaggart

Sunday 8th March, Tullamore, Offaly.  It was all so different.  Beaming from ear to ear leaving a shell-shocked press room in O’Connor Park, Antrim had just performed an escape even Houdini would have been proud off.  Life was indeed, good.

A league final to think about and look forward to with the debates starting about any prospective venue.  No-one knew what was ahead.

“Confirmed for Croke Park, keep it to yourself until the news breaks.”  The phone call I got early the next day from a good friend.  Brilliant.  What I wanted, what everyone wanted.  As we manoeuvred our way through the week, it was clear there was only going to be one outcome.

It made my ‘Get your Saff on’ article look extremely stupid but that was merely an afterthought.  Corona was now more than a bottle you would carry in a blue bag.  A very real threat was now on our doorstep. 

If we are honest, no-one knew the extent of COVID-19 until it was on our doorstep.  I never took it lightly, far from it.  But just the sheer extent of the disruption if not the devastation it would and is causing in our homes was underestimated, by me anyway.

I’m not the only one who could say they miss the games.  The craic from all the characters you meet across the county, the smell of freshly cut grass and excitement of watching the games.  Hell, I even miss the abuse from those who might have had a differing view from what I wrote when covering their team and fighting with the elements while making notes on what’s going on.

Going from covering up to seven games a week at this time of year the only hurling Brendan is involved in these days is in his own back yard. This is him and Caoimhe in action. Pic by Aoibheann McTaggart

Between matches, previews and watching or training camogie with my daughters, I could easily say I’ve gone from six days a week in GAA to a couple of hours a day in the backyard.  Changed times.  I can now say I’ve improved my ‘not so good side’ immeasurably while my daughters are ready to take on the world.

What the absence of anything GAA has revealed is how integral it is to our everyday lives.  The lack training to attend or a game at the weekend to look forward to leaves a void that takes some filling.  One look at the calendar we have in our kitchen reveals just as much.  Marked in March and April is the start of the club seasons while my eldest daughter had her Saturday’s marked and potential Feile glory………..Or so she tells me anyway.

Efforts made by clubs to ensure our communities stay together in the fight against this pandemic have to be applauded.  Up and down the county, clubs have been going the extra mile while the Saffron Gael and the McIlwaine Brothers have been delving into their archives to take us all back to yesteryear.  Black and white photo’s that have us all thinking on those golden games from a bygone era while the weekly quiz on a Monday night hosted by Vincent Rainey in his kitchen has been a welcome distraction and has helped with many who are in isolation.

Making the most of the situation we are faced with.

We all have our stories to share with what might have been.  Schools are out for spring never mind the summer while First Communion and Confirmation’s have been postponed. 

Two months later, we are still in a guessing game.  October has been muted for the restart of the inter-county game leaving the potential for club games to start in late summer.  It’s my opinion that we should leave the 2020 season with an asterisk beside it.  Play the league finals to finish the promotion conundrum in the depths of winter if it is required.  It doesn’t need to be in Croke Park and by the way the club groundsmen have been looking after their hallowed turf, there will be no shortage of availability but the focus should be on player welfare and getting ready for 2021.  This pandemic should be condemned to the history books before a thought is given to the resumption of our games.  An unpopular opinion but life is too short to be gambled with.  Advertisements and TV deals shouldn’t come into the equation. 

That mean’s club champions hold onto their rewards from last season, leaving the MacNamee Cup in Toome and the Volunteer Cup in Dunloy until next year.  Every cloud and all that, I suppose.

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