Sporting shutdown in a border down: A life and death issue descended into cheap bickering

Sporting shutdown in a border down: A life and death issue descended into cheap bickering

This weekend last year we were fairly full of ourselves.

I was assisting the great Mickey Donnelly with Aghaloo O’Neill’s, the football club that skirts the Moy Bridge that separates Tyrone and Monaghan. We were playing my brother in law Chris Leonard’s club Belcoo, who themselves happen to share a bridge over the river MacNean that cuts a line between Fermanagh and Cavan, in a fairly harmless challenge match.

As it happens, and not that I ever mention it to him of course, we won convincingly. Nah, we stuffed them, setting ourselves up for a hard-fought win the next weekend against Castlederg in the Junior League opener.

One year on and nothing is happening on these pitches. The weeds are starting to peek up around the clubrooms, the atmosphere is flat. Even the Blackwater River drifts on oblivious to the Coronavirus.

In our local hurling and camogie club Cúchulainn An Ghleanna, we had a decent start to 2020. They shafted the former Chairman (me) and got in some ambitious young buck called Cathal McGarry. He was all about driving things on and – in a development sure to strike fear into the sizeable and vocal Burn The Hurls Brigade of Tyrone - had 50 children attending our nursery coaching sessions.

All of that is gone too.

Being just on the northern side of the border, some weird stuff has gone down. Mismanagement of the message has been the principal source of angst. The insistence by the British public to Prime-Minister-up a character straight out of The Beano has come home to roost.

So too, has the toadying of the Stormont Executive who turned a health issue – indeed, a life and death issue – into a cheap bit of Yah-Boo Theatre of The Absurd when they bickered over whether or not to close the schools.

In the end the Education Minister Peter Weir — who once, as a student who wore a pin-stripe suit into class most days, attempted to lead a campaign to banish the GAA club in Queen’s University from the Union — had to accept his humiliation and close when it became apparent that parents were taking matters into their own hands and were taking children out anyway.

The standoff led to a situation where in Newry, the former Carlow coach Steven Poacher was leading a Gaelic football coaching session on Friday, March 13th at his school St Joseph’s, 24 hours after the GAA themselves had called for a halt in all activities.

Petty sectarianism isn’t just limited to the major sport. In Enniskillen, the local Lawn Tennis club instructed members last week that they would be ‘taking the advice of the First Minister’ (Arlene Foster) and continue to play on.

Sense prevailed among the team captains in their in-house league, who simply refused to compete.

Just across the border in Bundoran, the superb links golf course have taken measures to avoid contaminated surfaces. Instead of your ball dropping into the cup, the hole now sits up proud, ensuring nobody touches shared surfaces.

All changed. Utterly.

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