Here we go again. Once more unto the breach, you could say, to give our own tragicomedy its appropriate Shakespearian inflection. One year down the line, twelve months of more stops and starts than the RTÉ player and what have we got to show for ourselves at the end of it all? Nothing but bad haircuts and the promise that “the end is truly in sight”. The kind of blurry ‘forgot my contacts’ sight that renders one flailing around in a myopic haze perhaps, but “in sight” nonetheless. So, there’s that, at least. Welcome to Lockdown III, the final (at the risk of tempting fate) hellish chapter in the series, similar in many ways to the first instalment, only lacking the exotic backdrop of ‘unprecedented times’.
Hard to fathom that it’s already been a year since the horse-racing community was facing public tribunal in the lead-up to Cheltenham week and accused of devaluing the cost of human life. Well, to be fair, it’s only horses this time around. Progress of sorts, I suppose. Oh, what we wouldn’t give for the optimism that imbibed us all last March. “It’ll be over by Christmas!”, we proclaimed with the giddy innocence of some poor garsún off to enlist with the Munster Fusiliers, only to find himself hunkered down in the trenches for far longer than he’d anticipated. At least those poor craters managed to see the world amid all the devastation. I hear the Gallipoli peninsula is lovely this time of year.
Thankfully, we’ve sport this time around, which even in its most sterile of guises, manages to punctuate the grim relentlessness of Lockdown life. Long may it continue. Following the complete cessation of live sport during Lockdown I, the wistful thrill of watching and reading about old games, supplemented with the novelty of online polls and off-beat features, did a job in its stead. The methadone wasn’t long losing its potency, however. Could we really go back to watching Clare v Offaly from ’95? Or voting for the best pitches in Duhallow? Or picking the best-ever Cork XV born on a Tuesday? With these things I’m afraid, as the saying goes, if you’re old enough to do it once, you’re too old to do it again.
It must be remembered as well that last year’s hiatus fell timely, it being a year of ample nostalgic opportunity. Old tales from Genoa and Rome don’t need to be asked twice for evocation, nor do those involving the more localised feats from thirty years ago. As Michael Moynihan so self-deprecatingly alluded to himself, only the bus driver managed to escape his interrogation for a take on the momentous Double. This year won’t be half as kind, were things to go belly-up once more.
To be honest, it’s in everyone’s best interests to keep the sporting show on the road for as long as we can, by whatever means necessary. At the very least, it succeeds in momentarily averting our attention from the things that actually matter. Ancient Roman politicians were known to distribute cheap food and entertainment – ‘bread and circuses’ – in order to generate public approval and distract from the unpopularity of their policies. With this in mind, it makes sense that a debt-riddled organisation, backed up by a debt-riddled government would announce their intentions to bring a ‘real festival of football’ to our native shores in ten years time.
In some respects, the completely plausible prospect of the centenary World Cup taking place in our own backyard, in conjunction with our British and Northern Irish counterparts, is to be lauded. And to think some people have questioned our leader’s enthusiasm for cross-border collaboration? More fool them. Many football commentators have already quipped that it could be our only hope of ever reaching the finals again. Christ, it could be our only hope of ever going to a game again. Although, that being said, McConkey does reckon we might just be out of the woods by then, so fingers crossed.
Ironically enough, even leaving aside the fantastical nonsense of a potential World Cup bid, a year which should have been marked by nationalist commemorations and self-righteous ridicule at the Brexishambles transpiring across the pond, will instead entail covetous glances at our old colonial masters. Temporarily, anyway. For as the British plough on, administering jabs as if…well as if their lives depend on it, our vaccination programme continues to trundle along with all the urgency of Rowan Atkinson gift-wrapping a necklace (Love Actually reference, ye’ve all seen it!).
The consequences of such contrasting approaches will undoubtedly be severe, but the effects on the countries respective sporting domains should provide a modicum of Gallows’ Humour. Next June, thousands of boozed-up, vacced-up Brits from either side of Hadrian’s Wall will descend on Wembley Stadium to watch England take on the Scots and engage in the sort of perilous indulgences still unafforded to us – drinking, shouting, standing-up etc etc. Over here meanwhile, unless they chance opening up for a couple of weeks to give us a ‘meaningful championship’, the deafening silence that enveloped our sporting theatres last Autumn will be back.
Much like last year, the ordinarily bustling fulcrums of the early-season GAA calendar, Thurles, Killarney, Clones will mirror the desolation of Wild West ghost towns, tumbleweeds bouncing through the dusty vacant streets, the sound of crickets and creaking saloon doors echoing in the warm Summer breeze. And we’ll all be at home, watching the action unfold from the discomfort of our own living-rooms. Again.
Once, they say, is misfortune. Twice is sheer ineptitude.