John Fogarty: Out of the loop GAA know the true value of games

John Fogarty: Out of the loop GAA know the true value of games
Two Mayo fans share a tender moment during a Championship match. Championship 2020 is very much in doubt but, given the tangible benefits sport provides for mental health, the hope remains that it can somehow go ahead. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

TIME, that arbitrary hoor of a measurement, has never felt so redundant. We can’t say exactly when but days for us lost their appeal a week or two back. We are Phil Connors. “They say we’re young and we don’t know…”

Saturdays offer a difference, though. Saturdays, the car gets its one run of the week. Saturdays, there might be even be the odd takeaway. One peak for the other six troughs — it’s six, right?

Oh reader, we are being extremely melodramatic but allow us this brief loss of perspective and self-awareness. This time of crisis is too an occasion for exaggeration. How many of us, for instance, have prefaced our conversations these last few weeks with “I’m not a doctor but…” as if somehow it qualifies what we’re about to predict. On that score, we’re all like Trump.

If this columnist’s faith in days is wilting, our belief in dates is holding on by the fingernails. March 12. March 29. April 19. May 5. Just as hope springs eternal, spring hopes eternal.

Never before have we wished an extension would become a deadline.

For what it’s worth but don’t hold us to this since 24 hours just roll into the next 24, yesterday marked 50 days since the last senior inter-county GAA games. The chances are we will be acknowledging 100 days (June 16), possibly 150 days (August 5) and quite possibly 200 (September 24).

It’s 100 days today since the last senior club championship games were played, the All-Ireland finals. The waiting game is nothing new to club players who do plenty of it every summer. The 200 or so days that from this year to next were to separate the end of one inter-county season from the beginning of another could be tolerated too. Club action made that so but then so did being able to red-ring a date in the diary.

Instead, the excellently-produced official GAA diary for 2020 lying here on our desk is sadly not worth the paper it is printed on.

Should there be no Championship this year, that 200-day break will feel like a breeze but unlike our opening rant we remain optimistic there will be, not because we imagine the letters MD behind our name but knowing the tangible benefits Gaelic Games and team sports provide for mental health, which along with the economic challenges will be the next hurdle the country must face.

Reports over the weekend about the Government giving consideration to providing a testing regime for inter-county players offered some positivity, although they appeared to be dashed by GAA president John Horan yesterday.

For some government officials, mass testing seems to be the green light for high level team sports to return but the GAA, who have not been privy to any such plan, are insisting that contact sport be okayed.

Now, both can be interpreted to mean the same but this is the second time they’ve been blindsided by government speculation in the space of a week.

Horan’s use of the word “aghast” reflected the GAA’s anger.

This column understands that earlier this month health experts and officials had began tentative work on a protocol for the return of team sports at inter-county, League of Ireland level.

Dressing rooms would not be used, players would arrive togged out and there would be reduced panel sizes — the current Championship squad limit is 26.

A heavier medical presence would also be at games where any player with a raised temperature would be sent home.

That players would be prioritised for testing might be frowned upon but then they would be putting themselves at more risk and if they were to represent the vanguard as Irish society returned to a semblance of normality the argument in favour of them receiving such treatment would be a strong one.

By that stage, plenty of low-risk, individual and possibly lower-level team sports will have hopefully returned but for so many of the older generations it’s that ability to live vicariously through their club and county teams that sustains them.

And Christ they will need it. Look at demand for the bit of cheer David Brady and other former players have brought into the lives of the elderly with their phone-calls.

It’s for them primarily but obviously ourselves that we are currently curbing, cutting, and ceding but they must be chief in our thoughts as we countenance being in this for the long haul.

They and we can’t be expected to just exist.

That’s not giving the remotest consideration to things being the same for the foreseeable future. For the sake of bodies, they can’t. But for the sake of minds, there has to be relief from this life on loop.

Furious as they are about being kept out of one by the Government, the GAA know that only too well.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie

Ian and Fionn inspiring figures

Our involvement with the annual All-Ireland GAA Golf Challenge has provided this column with the privilege of meeting incredible young people such as Ian O’Connell and Fionn McAnaney.

Spa man Ian, who is paralysed from the shoulders down after a bicycle accident in Killarney in 2017, was the benefactor of a specially modified car through the Challenge two years ago and his kindness has never ceased to amaze.

Earlier this month, Ian set up a Gofundme page with the aim of raising €1,000 for the intensive care unit in Kerry General Hospital as they tackle the coronavirus outbreak. Ian had spent two spells in the ICU, the latest last October following cardiac arrest. His efforts have currently generated close to €18,000.

Ian also heavily promoted last year’s Challenge beneficiary, young Raharney hurler Fionn, who has cerebral palsy and required selective dorsal rhizotomy surgery in the US.

Inspired to help out another child in need of care, one-year-old Dan Donoher, Fionn will next week cycle 10km to raise funds for the son of former Laois footballers Aisling and Niall.

Fionn too has exceeded his €1,000 goal but donations are still more than welcome by clicking “Fionn’s 10k Cycle for Dan” on Facebook. Ian is also encouraging more donations on https://www.gofundme.com/f/raising-money-for-the-icu-unit-in-kerry-general.

The great work being done by clubs and county and club teams for charitable causes right now is a beautiful reflection on the country in such a time of need. These two young men lead the way by paying it forward.

Pacino in the time of coronavirus

John Fogarty: Out of the loop GAA know the true value of games
File photo dated 02/02/20 of Al Pacino, who has brought an indefatigable sense of simmering intensity to numerous roles across a 50-year career. (Matt Crossick/PA Wire)


To coincide with the 80th birthday of Al Pacino on Saturday last, we carry an abbreviated version of his famous Inches speech from Any Given Sunday, known to almost every GAA team, but with a little twist:

“I don’t know what to say, really. It could be three months to the biggest battle of our football/hurling lives.

“Either we heal as a team or we are going to crumble. WhatsApp message by WhatsApp message, Zoom session by Zoom session ’til this is finished.

“We are in hell right now, gentlemen believe me, and we can stay here and get the shit kicked out of us.

“Or we can fight our way back from this blight. We can climb out of hell. Seventy-eight point seven four zero two inches at a time.

“On this team, we fight for that 78.7402 inches. On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us to pieces for those 78.7402 inches. We claw with our fingernails for those 78.7402 inches. ’Cause we know when we add up all those 78.7402 inches, that’s going to make the difference between winning and losing, between living and dying.

“Now I can’t make you do it. You gotta look at the guy next to you. Look into his eyes.

“Now I think you are going to see a guy who will stay those 78.7402 inches away from you.

“You are going to see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team because he knows when it comes down to it, you are gonna do the same thing for him.

“That’s a team, gentlemen and we heal now, as a team, and dye or shave our heads for charity as individuals. That’s football, guys. That’s all it is. Now, what ya gonna do?”

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