Keep On Keeping On: GAA in a Post-Corona World

The GAA has been lauded this week for their decision to open up headquarters as a testing facility for individuals suspected of contracting the you-know-what. A commendable act no doubt, while also  reassuring us  that even when all GAA activity has ground to a halt, John Horan still remains vehemently opposed to taking the Dubs out of Croke Park. At least the announcement will soothe the worries of any sickly Cork men and women based in the capital who may be planning a visit to Jones’ Road. After all, we haven’t left Croker with a positive result in years.

Other County Boards around the country  have followed suit, offering up their stadia for similar testing. With regards to Pairc Ui Chaoimh, the drive-thru element of these tests remains somewhat disconcerting. I mean, we just fixed the grass. Unfortunately, it appears as if COVID testing will be the only reason to venture down the Marina over the coming months. And we can’t even chance Longboats for a quart beforehand.

Inter-county players now exist in a state of perpetual limbo, trying to maintain their fitness throughout the spring, unsure when their next match will be. Welcome to the life of a club player lads. Nice of you to join us. On a weekend which in the past has been reserved for the All-Ireland Club Finals, the only club player showcasing his talents on the national stage this year was our old nemesis Taggy Fogarty. Competing in the final of Dancing with the Stars (there was no League Sunday, I had to watch something), the Emerald’s clubman was unfortunate to lose out to Lottie Ryan. Although to be fair to him, he was being double-marked.

Meanwhile, the rest of the country’s hurlers have been making use of their garden walls and gable ends to keep the eye in, like Steve McQueen in the Great Escape, repetitively bouncing a rubber ball against the wall of his cell to abate the tedium of solitary confinement. One can’t help but feel sorry for Hoggy’s neighbours in Blackpool, their endless days of quarantine no doubt pierced by the metronomic thud of a sliothar being pucked against the partition wall from dawn to dusk, the poignant sound of the nation’s greatest stickman restricted to the confines of his own home.

The national leagues will now inevitably be scrapped, no winner declared. While the GAA could adopt a policy similar to that of the Department of Education, granting everyone a league medal, I don’t think anyone is overly perturbed. It’s goose is cooked, it has been for quite a while. Yes, I know that TG4 do an excellent job covering the league and yes, I am aware that their promotion of the Irish language is all the more salient now that the nation’s adolescents have attained seemingly unparalleled levels of fluency. But ultimately, any competition which can be prefixed with “It’s only the…” in times of normality probably doesn’t deserve to survive in times of crisis.

Which leaves us with the championship, the succulent turkey of the Irish sporting calendar, this time served without the trimmings. And how bad. As the nation satiates itself on old games for their sporting fix, through All-Ireland Gold, Laochra Gael or dusty VHS tapes, why not ride that wave of nostalgia and revisit the structures that served the association for the best part of one-hundred years. Galway straight into the semi’s? Sure why not. As the US look set to suspend inbound and outbound flights, at least it should preclude any modern-day Tony Keady debacles.

It remains to be seen what window of opportunity is afforded the GAA to run off their condensed championships this summer. Should the situation escalate and weeks of inactivity become months, a blitz style format may not be beyond the realms of possibility. A throwback to our youth with twenty-minute games, rolling subs and the championship run off in its entirety over the course of one glorious weekend. With crisps and minerals dispensed at the end, everyone goes home happy.

Thankfully, amid the clouds, silver linings can be gleaned. While it is widely acknowledged that the existing measures imposed on us will change the way society interacts forever, it is possible that our current devotion to self-isolation could similarly alter the way our national games are played. Is it overly optimistic to suggest that if our national psyche becomes predisposed to space and separation, it could finally signal the death knell for compact defenses and congested rucks? Even last week, our bainisteoir addressed the nation, imploring us to “stay apart” in order to prevail. In other words, use the width of the pitch and don’t be overcrowding the middle. Who knew Leo was a traditionalist?

In truth, the GAA can learn a lot from our Taoiseach, whose resurgence in popularity has proved that the mistakes of the past are soon forgotten when the Corona Virus is the only game in town. Likewise, the problems that undermined the GAA at the start of the year have quickly faded from view. Oh, what we’d give for a hectic fixture schedule now. At the moment, the organization can do little more than play the waiting game, all the while garnering whatever adulation is forthcoming for its response to such an unprecedented situation. Not all heroes wear capes, as he said himself. When all is said and done, while it may not be the pandemic the GAA wants, perhaps it’s the pandemic it needs.

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