Colin Sheridan: Were the good times really worth the price?

Generations humbled by the grand cancellation of modern sporting life — something, we will claim that could never have been predicted, writes Colin Sheridan

YOUTHFUL EXUBERANCE: Johnny Murphy, aged eight, left, and Toby Slye O’Connell, aged 11, both from Sandymount in Dublin, play soccer on Havelock Square, beside the Aviva Stadium. Inan effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the majority of the country’s sporting associations have suspended all activity until March 29. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
YOUTHFUL EXUBERANCE: Johnny Murphy, aged eight, left, and Toby Slye O’Connell, aged 11, both from Sandymount in Dublin, play soccer on Havelock Square, beside the Aviva Stadium. Inan effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the majority of the country’s sporting associations have suspended all activity until March 29. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Were the good times really worth the price?

WE should have known better. That’s what they’ll tell us. Our children and our children’s children.

We should have known, as they sit us down and present to us the evidence why all the signs were there thatsomething funky was going on.

And we’ll pace the floor and argue, refusing to take our scolding, insisting there was simply no way to foresee the calamity that befell us as a people.

By then, they’ll be smarter than us; our children and our children’s children. And as we shake and shudder and mutter “you weren’t there...”, they will pick apart our follies, slap the proof down like Atticus Finch, and say “you, Sir, were an idiot”.

Smart as they are, they’ll struggle to find the genesis of it all. Leicester winning the Premier League , perhaps? That anomaly may not have been the cause, but certainly was a consequence of whatever cosmic dust was sprinkled upon our heads, eventually causing the world to turn upside down.

Yes, Leicester winning — nay, cantering, to a Premier League should’ve been evidence enough to raise suspicion. Even Leicester were suspicious, so suspicious they sacked their manager Claudio Ranieri, perhaps believing him an agent for evil.

We will get defensive, explaining how we were sick of the mini monopoly of the oligarchs Chelsea and City and United that the novelty of the no-hoper was a tonic for the soul. Leicester winning the league was proof of the magic of sport — the sheer unpredictability of it all.

We will say this with the blind sincerity of a foolish man who swears he saw Helen of Troy sashay across the floor at a dance in Seapoint in 1962, when in fact it was Cathy from Cappataggle.

They will listen, perhaps a tad guilty they came off so strong in their critique of our madness, but they will also tell us, romance is no excuse for stupidity. We will shake our heads, whispering “but...you weren’t there”.

Next, they’ll dig into their lucky dip of our collective shame and pull out a picture of Joe Schmidt (remember him).

They’ll slide it across the desk like the bad detective in an Elmore Leonard novel, and we’ll pick it up and look at it, trying to appear cold and unmoved.

“You loved him, didn’t you?”, they’ll say, and we’ll cut them a look loaded with faux disbelief, but our blushing faces will betray us.

As our children and our children’s children ramble on about how fickle and misguided that love was, our minds will wander, to halcyon days of Heineken Cup triumphs, of free-flowing champagne rugby, of Grand Slams in Twickers and seminal nights in Soldiers Field.

“You loved him for 10 years, and then lanced him like a septic boil?”

Their words will sting.

“You can’t understand,” we’ll respond, shouting now. “You weren’t there in the 90s, when the only thing Simon Geoghegan was getting on the wing was hypothermia. A decade of draconian decay, so devoid of tries they replayed Noel Mannion’s heroic effort in the Cardiff Arms Park more times than Casablanca.”

No, they’ll tell us. Our love was shortsighted, self-serving and cruel. We talked about Joe for a decade as the second coming of Christ, and then we dumped him like a cheap top from Penneys when he had the audacity to do the most human of things — fail. We couldn’t just leave it be a sport.

We had to make a social movement. We had to invent rugby country. These are not the actions of rational men.

“You should’ve known better” they’ll wistfully say. Again, we’ll shake our heads, reaching for the last glass of the Yellow Spot.

They don’t let up, the children and the children’s children. Reams of paper and screenshots, example after example of conduct unbecoming, of abandoned responsibility, of narcissistic sycophancy, laid bare, like blood on the sunny snow.

“McIlroy”, they’ll say, “what about him?”

You’ll sigh, knowing what’s coming next.

Claimed him. Disowned him.Dismissed him. Abused him. Embraced him. Recently appointed him Winner of the Morality Order of Merit.

But a man can change his mind, we’ll argue.

“Pfff”, they’ll say, “you couldn’t make up your mind for long enough to change it.”

Erroneous we’ll cry! What about McGregor they’ll counter. You’ll thump the table now, trying to obscure the crate of his rancid whiskey you bought in a juiced up fit of national pride one fight night.

There were other signs, they’ll tell us; like supporting the auld enemy. The World Cup in Russia, complementing their style of play and humility.

And the Ashes, and the Cricket World Cup; not watching Munster hurling matches and epic Wimbledon finals to switch over to cricket! Cricket!

And spend the entire evening telling the boozer how happy we were to see an Irishman lead Old Blighty to the summit of something!

And then, the coup to grace — we started to like Eddie Jones and admire Owen Farrell in Japan, them like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, preying on the emotionally vulnerable Irishmen — who like Scarlett Johansson — were left abandoned in a strange country.

We were all alone, we’ll sob.

“But it was England” they’ll say.

Your head is in your hands now. You just want it to stop. Nobody knew, you say. Men much smarter than us didn’t know...how were we to know??

“Oh, people knew”, they’ll say.

“You were too busy looking at your phone, filtering photos and checking the odds of the 3.45 at Uttoxeter to notice the shifting sands.”

Some saw the signs and self-isolated long before hurling was declared the greatest, fastest, fiercest noblest of field sports.

“You should have done the same”, they’ll tell us. “Packed up your box of VHS tapes of Mayo matches and hit for the coast. Instead, you fell out with your best friend over VAR. You started going to League of Ireland matches. You even started to think Galway were a nice Gaelic football team. What the hell was that about?”

Nobody shouted stop! They did, though. We just didn’t hear them. We wanted it all.

And when we got it, we didn’t know where to put it. The million sports channels. The Super 8’s. The likes and retweets from sports stars as desperate for our approval as we were of theirs. The premium seats. The free, unlimited content. The agreeable journos, and finally, the one last gluttonous festival of horse racing, just as Rome— our Rome — was beginning to burn.

They’ll be right, our children and our children’s children, we should’ve known better.

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