Not long ago, I watched ‘er indoors walk just ahead, along a path in the park, and reveal herself utterly.
A football lay, provocatively idle, against the margin, begging attention. She wasn’t in any meaningful hurry, yet strode purposely, coldly past it.
If you didn’t know her, you might take it that a natural urge had been suppressed. That she had somehow overcome the basic human compulsion to, at the very least, roll that ball briefly under her foot, to assess its compliance, to see what way her touch was on this fresh morning.
But that is not what happened. She has no such urges, being entirely oblivious to the charms of sport and its paraphernalia.
She regards a football as inanimate and unfriendly as a rock. She puts up with the stock of sporting equipment inside the front door like you might grudgingly endure a gaudy heirloom.
The crowd hum of a sporting contest on the television is as unsettling to her as a fellow passenger opening a packet of cheese and onion crisps when she’s sat in the back of an old car, on a rainy day, travelling between Mallow and Limerick.
She wouldn’t open the curtains if Tipp and Cork went at it on the back lawn. She wouldn’t answer the door to Messi.
And perhaps it is important to recognise, at the start of a fresh decade, that there is this other way of life. That there are these functioning sporting atheists — lacking the unbelievable belief — walking among us. Proving you can go about your business in a perfectly fulfilled way without sport.
It could be easy enough to forget that, with the racket sport makes, with its constant screaming for notice. With its perpetual whir of previews and inquests framing the action.
We’re not contracted to care. We’re not, by and large, indentured slaves. We’re not all county men, condemned to The Sacrifices and The Demands by our talents.
There are not many of us — players, supporters, or sportswriters — so handsomely rewarded that we have to painfully endure a lifetime’s servitude to a sport, like Ronnie O’Sullivan. That we have to bestovercome, like Andre Agassi, “a dark and secret” hatred for tennis.
There is always the option to walk on by.
Might we be better off?
There is, no doubt, much to be said for untethering your mental well-being from the athletic results achieved by others. Could any physician diligently recommend pulling your weekly mood from the lottery drum of final scores?
Even the extreme, delirious highs Liverpool fans are now experiencing cannot be entirely healthy. Like gorging three times weekly on a banned list of E-numbers. Whatever about the eventual comedown, the side-effects of this constant euphoria are bad enough — the millions of Golden Cleric acceptance speeches after every victory, as any perceived naysayer is targeted.
It appears to be a relatively new form of angry happiness, where there is never enough credit being given, even all credit.
In a way, not much changed over the past decade. We came into it worrying about keyword warriors on internet message boards, we exit it pondering what to do about keyboard warriors on social media.
The state of Gaelic football, obviously, remained a constant concern.
Perhaps the most notable shift has been in the deepening of anger and ennui.
Now, every defeated dressing room must have been lost by the gaffer. Every losing team is an absolute disgrace that doesn’t care enough.
No wonder it was the decade that brought sportspeople closer together, when almost every sport was played more civilly, when opponents seemed to realise they had more in common with one another than with the lunatics in the stands, or at home.
So they began hugging each other tenderly in the tunnel beforehand, and swapping souvenirs at half time, which only deepened further everyone else’s anger.
Gaelic football, of course, remains the exception, where opponents still respectfully hate one another, andsupporters, generally, get on grand.
So, amid all this anger and ennui and hatred, I think it’s important, at this significant landmark, that we catch a glimpse of this other, more serene, way of life.
That we size up the advantages of the atheist’s peace. And then decide if we want to renew our vows with sport.
Some will convince themselves by stripping away all the nonsense and reduce sport to the purity of that ball in the park. That is how Agassi tended to keep the show on the road.
“Though I hate tennis, I like the feeling of hitting a ball dead perfect. It’s the only peace. When I do something perfect, I enjoy a split-second of sanity and calm.”
Some will have made it into the 20s determined to cut all ties and survived ’til lunchtime, New Year’s Day, when they were beguiled by that Brighton lad, with his overhead kick against Chelsea, and the fall to his knees in wonder at his own brilliance.
Others, maybe of an Arsenal persuasion, have bought themselves more time with the fool’s gold of new philosophies and rediscovered dressing rooms.
I have already renewed my vows.
Do you believe in sport and its ability to create heaven on Earth? I do.
Do you reject Mourinho and all his works and empty promises? I do.
What choice did I have when, right there on that path, her indoors’ little daughter, her mini-me, managed four keepy-uppies with that same neglected ball, three short of her personal best?
And what do you know — having vetted this column with rising indignation, herself insists now she actually doesn’t mind tennis, and would certainly answer the door to Messi. And Federer.
’Til death do us part.
It’s also New Year’s resolution season, of course, so I think it’s high time we introduced more horsey talk to this column.
As word emerges that they’re thinking about introducing a fifth day at Cheltenham, the obvious move would be to assess what this means for The Irish, the raiders etc etc.
Instead, perhaps it’s time to consider what they should be doing on that fifth day. Might there not be scope to broaden out this festival, to liven things up for those atheists who were never sold on the old ding-dong of running around in a circle?
Surely some sort of equine compromise rules series would be box office? Get the sprinters and chasers and showjumpers and maybe even the polo ponies in the same arena. Test their versatility with some sort of superstars for nags. Throw in a bit of swimming and a penalty shoot-out. Crown a true wonder horse.
Failing that, why not use the extra day to relax some of the rules around species. If these leading jockeys and trainers are all they’re cracked up to be, surely there’s a combination out there who can finally disprove Babs’ famous theory — and show you can actually win a derby with a donkey.
Adam Idah: The former College Corinthians frontman might have made his Premier League bow but he’s unlikely to get carried away on Daniel Farke’s watch: “It was not like he saved the world in those three minutes. He has improved without doubt, although I wouldn’t compare him with Marcus Rashford just yet.”
Phil Neville: Still firing on all cylinders in the name of guff: “Jesus will take over the Aguero mantelpiece.”
Jose Mourinho: The smart money suggested February for his first handcart appearance as Spurs boss, but the mask has slipped early. Ominous signs.