When I was elected chairperson of Cork County Board in late 2017, I expected the role to be a challenging one, and so indeed it has proven.
Some of the challenges I had — or should have — foreseen to a greater or lesser degree, and some took me by surprise.
At the end of last year, finance appeared to be the greatest of those challenges, and I fully expected this to be the focus of my final year in the role.
I was also looking forward to a playing season which would hopefully build on the gains made at inter-county level last year and see the introduction of a new county championship structure.
If you had told me two months ago that by early March the GAA, this country, and the world as we know it would be brought to a standstill by a previously unknown virus, I’d have thought you were reading too much science-fiction or watching too much Netflix.
And yet, this is where we find ourselves.
Our playing fields and meeting rooms are empty, we have no idea when the next match will be played, and Páirc Uí Chaoimh is now the largest Covid-19 testing centre in the country. Strangest of all, none of this matters.
All around us, people are losing their jobs, their livelihoods, and possibly even their lives. Our health system is on the verge of being stretched to its limits, and the world around us is changing irrevocably.
As a school principal, my Cork GAA concerns are completely overshadowed by the demands of trying to support the staff and students of my school in implementing a whole new way of teaching and learning in the most challenging of circumstances.
One thing I know for certain is that the GAA, as an association, and Cork GAA, as one of its strongest branches, will weather this storm.
Only a few short weeks ago, we launched a new jersey commemorating the events of 1920 in Cork, the height of the War of Independence, a reminder of how much we can survive.
Since its inception in 1884, the GAA has survived wars, economic crashes, political instability, huge societal change and various public health threats, and it will survive this one.
We are a community association, and while this is normally manifested in getting together within our communities, whether for training and matches, other community activities, or supporting bereaved families, our clubs are adjusting to the new normal of keeping apart by using their extensive networks now to deliver public health messages, to provide safe support to those in self-isolation and other vulnerable members of our communities, and to maintain that vital contact we all need in difficult times.
I’ve asked them this week to use all their resources to try to reinforce the social and physical distancing message, and I can already see that they are doing so.
Being in a position to offer Páirc Uí Chaoimh to the HSE for the duration of this crisis has given us another welcome opportunity to support the immense efforts of the HSE and other frontline staff, and we are very glad that they have taken us up on this offer.
On a practical level, the Cork GAA offices remain operational, with staff working either from home or from Páirc Uí Chaoimh, providing whatever support is needed to our clubs and also to the HSE staff operating the sample-collection centre at the stadium.
The reality is that we are hearing very little from our clubs right now. If our players and administrators have any time to think about sport at present, I’m sure that the questions in everyone’s minds are competition-related.
What will happen to the Allianz Leagues? Will the Cork footballers still have a chance to secure promotion this year? What about the Munster Championships?
We were due to play the first round of a new group-style county championship in April; that has now been postponed and clubs must be wondering how this will affect those plans.
And the simple answer is that we just don’t know.
It’s pointless to speculate at the moment, and no-one wants to rush into making significant decisions in such an uncertain climate.
It may prove 2020 is a lost year; on the other hand, we could be back on the playing fields in summer if we heed public health advice and just stay away from each other.
As time goes on, hard decisions may have to be taken, and we will take them if we need to, but the priority right now must be to do all we can to get through this crisis.
As the late Kenny Rogers advised, there’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.