Corona Chaos: Uncertain times for sport

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? This was the philosophical quandary that momentarily faced Liverpool fans as football closed its doors to the public last week. Now, as talk of cancellations and possible annulments abound, the perennial asterisk that may hover over Liverpool’s first league title in thirty years has added a layer of irony so thick it could be cut with any one of Alanis Morrisette’s 10,000 spoons.

That being said, Boris Johnson’s apparent insistence on fiddling while the population of Britain burns (or at least experiences a collective increase in body temperature along with bouts of coughing and breathing difficulties) should ensure that when Liverpool finally do lift the coveted trophy, it will be met a cacophony of noise from every corner of Anfield, an exuberant deluge of raucous phlegmy cheers. Fever Pitch indeed!

For another set of long-suffering Reds, the impact of COVID-19 has been expertly circumvented. Many lamented the ten-week absence that awaited the Cork hurlers when they were defeated up in Salthill a couple of weekends ago. Who’s laughing now? While the rest of our hurling foes try to acclimatise to a lengthy period of inactivity, the Cork boys are already two weeks ahead of the game. Kingston’s playing chess lads, put away those checkers.

Another possible effect of the cancellation of weeks (if not months) of GAA action could be the re-introduction of a truncated All-Ireland format, pared down to its purest guise. A good old-fashioned honest-to-god championship, unburdened by the superfluous intricacies of qualifiers and super-8’s. Those were the days.  Or were they? The most recent recollections of a knock-out championship hurling on Leeside still elicit painful memories of early-season drubbings at the hands of Limerick and Clare. Judging by the performances of our hurlers so far this year, any reversion to a 90’s style arrangement could equally result in months of hurling inactivity on a national scale. We may need all the back-doors we can get.         

Meanwhile, it should be full steam ahead for our footballing brethren, who are scheduled to take on Louth down the Park next weekend. Following government advice issued on Thursday instructing that all external gatherings should not exceed five-hundred, there should still be a few tickets left for that particular clash.  In other footballing news, while sportspeople either side of the Atlantic were testing positive for the Corona Virus this week, there was something almost quaint, while no less worrying, about the news that Ruairi Deane had tested positive for a hamstring tear. Remember when muscular injuries were the extent of an athlete’s concerns. Simpler times.

Further afield, our Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Slovakia is now in jeopardy. One must query whether the game needs to be played at all, considering the inevitability of the result. It’s a one-all draw, when isn’t it? Duffy from a corner. Speculation is even rife that the competition may be postponed altogether, rescheduled for the following summer. Of course, had you offered Mick McCarthy a worldwide health crisis that resulted in the postponement of the competition at the start of the campaign, he’d undoubtedly have “bitten your hand off”.          

Should it come to pass that the European Championships is deferred until 2021, it will prompt an interesting conundrum; Who will manage Ireland? Can we envisage a scenario whereby the current incumbent enters into a “Rotating Manager” arrangement with his heir, Mick McCarthy’s old-school conservatism intertwined with the radical ideals of Stephen Kenny. While the gruff Yorkshireman and the affable Tallaght native would make for interesting bedfellows, as a nation we are only too aware of the difficulties involved in the formation of a coalition encompassing profoundly conflicting philosophies. At least in the footballing domain, left-wing concerns amount to nothing more than James McClean’s first touch.

Over in Rugby Country, despite uninspiring showings thus far, Ireland’s fate is still remarkably in their own heavily-sanitised hands. After the latest French implosion, a bonus point victory in Paris should seal the deal. Thankfully, the final round of the Six-Nations has now been scheduled for the end of October. After all, how can the players be expected to answer Ireland’s Call if standing shoulder to shoulder is in breach of stringent social distancing protocol?     

Amid all the panic, Prestbury Park has somehow remained an oasis of serenity, it’s patrons seemingly unperturbed by the events occurring outside the Cotswolds. A carnival of back-slaps, hand-shakes and joyous embraces, the Cheltenham race-goers have dismissed recommended hygienic practices as if it were a low-rated handicapper in a Grade 1. Even on Friday when the gravity of the situation was becoming increasingly evident, the “Global Pandemic” on everyone’s lips was thought to be nothing more than an each-way tip for the Foxhunters.

To be fair, measures have been implemented to minimise the spread of the virus from the south-west of England, with Cheltenham attendees set to face “health conversations” on their return to Ireland. With all due respect to Mr. Coveney, he may have underestimated the potential difficulties in asking “How do you feel?” to a rabble of tired Irishmen in the aftermath of four solid days of creamy decadence. Corona Virus or no Corona Virus, it may not provoke many positive responses.

Thankfully, the enforced period of sporting hibernation has coincided with the airing of the superb The Boys In Green documentary, allowing us to remove ourselves from the travails of present and bask in the shamrock-tinted nostalgia of Jackie’s Army. Thirty years on from Schillaci, our sporting ambitions have again been thwarted. Once more, we’re blaming the Italians. Uncertain times ahead. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, as the fella says. The nation is certainly holding it’s breath now, George. 

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