Larry Ryan: The sports fan has forgotten perspective, thankfully

Whether it’s Cork betraying the legend of Ring  or Wexford putting up the effing white flag, we must relish now every wild overreaction to a setback
Larry Ryan: The sports fan has forgotten perspective, thankfully

SHOW OF FURY: Davy Fitzgerald couldn’t — and didn’t attempt to — hide his frustration after Wexford were thrashed by Galway in the Leinster SHC semi-final. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

In a ‘year like no other’, isn’t it a great comfort that this is turning out to be a sporting year like every other?

During the original shutdown, there were all those profound awakenings to the absurdity of a sporting life.

Released on parole from our long stretches tied to the fortunes of sporting institutions, we would find more fulfilling use for all those hours and years wasted. We might even find meaning.

Told by the modern messiah, Kloppo, that football had been downgraded to the most important of the least important things, we would dial down the hyperbole and despondency.

If the games ever returned, we would give thanks and vow to enjoy them, and we would know better than to lurch helplessly between joy and despair.

It was dangerous, subversive talk. And there was real concern that the sporting experience might be fatally contaminated by its natural enemy — perspective.

But it has been grand. Even without crowds, even disorientated by fake noise, we have been able to muster the disgust and hysteria needed to keep the sporting world turning.

Indeed it is among the finest tributes to the resilience of the human condition that we can be just as appalled by sport as we ever were.

There is something beautiful now in the utter outrage that follows a poor performance in the hurling championship.

Whether it’s Cork betraying the legend of Ring, Tipp allowing the roof to fall in, or Wexford putting up the effing white flag, we must relish now every wild overreaction to a setback.

Back in March, when we weren’t sure if the world was ending, we were all set to take the feelings of the vanquished into account. We were ready to be sensible and agree it mightn’t be fair to assess the moral fibre of a player based on how he gets on in championship.

Thankfully all of that has been forgotten. We are free once more to pronounce them an absolute disgrace. And equally we reserve the right to swivel on a sixpence and declare redemption if the elusive savage hunger is rediscovered the next day.

We can never take that for granted again.

Thankfully, we remain as scandalised as ever by a refereeing mistake (particularly if it favours Tipp) and we remain insistent on root and branch reviews to prevent them ever happening again.  

And with all that has gone on around us, during weeks like this we must cherish too the utter tirelessness Kerry people bring to building a case for Cork. To giving Cork a right chance Sunday.

At a time when disease is rife, when economies and democracy are under threat, it is truly touching to witness Kerry’s enduring interest in seeing a Cork football team capable of holding Kerry to five or six points.

It is more proof that sport has weathered the storm.

These days, we can even see a certain charm in Ronnie O’Sullivan’s truculence and ennui. As virus first spread and we bunkered in, you almost feared Ronnie would chill out and enjoy himself from here on in, something he threatened at the Crucible. But there he was in Milton Keynes this week, starting a row because Mark Allen twitched in his seat. Delivering another devastating knockout blow to perspective.

Perspective has never been a natural bedfellow of rugby, where every autumn international beckons the apocalypse, takes place at the Somme. 

But at times like this, you can almost appreciate the durability of ‘rugby values’. When humanity has been this low, it is heartening to know there is a cohort out there made of sterner stuff, operating to a higher moral code, always there to lead us out of the darkness with their imperishable stockpiles of respect.

Which is why there must be absolute condemnation when somebody compromises all of that by shaking his head when substituted.

For the rest of us, at least there is controvassy to entertain us and despite everything, the age-old patterns are still being observed.

Wasn’t there a moment when you feared you’d never again get quite so wrapped up in a debate over Harry Kane ‘making a back’ for the defender or Mo Salah not quite earning the right to go down?

And with little else to be doing, aren’t we privileged to hook the schizophrenia of the Premier League crisis-coaster into our veins?

A week ago Mikel Arteta was George Graham after he’d lost the magic, building a boring plodding team to grind its way to the cups. Then victory at Old Trafford instantly restored his boy genius standing, Potter to Pep’s Dumbledore.

Lamps, meanwhile, has lurched from hapless unqualified sub teacher, unable to control his class, to captain of catenaccio.

And all of a sudden, Mourinho’s blame games and conspiracy theories are working again, as though the entire Spurs dressing room has forgotten who they are dealing with.

Ole, meanwhile, might well see us out the other side of this if he can somehow keep the plates spinning. We entered pandemic with the enemies of Manchester United insisting Ole must be given time. And on it goes.

Speaking of Ole, or Olly as Roy would call him, the true voice of sport’s survival has, of course, been Keano’s.

In the darkest hours, you must have feared you’d never again encounter the purity of Roy’s rage in the hours after a Manchester United defeat.

A year ago, it might have been regarded as a little passé, that sort of outburst. Maybe we were beyond all that.

But we need to hear from Roy regularly these days, lest our minds ever drift to the more important things.

We need Roy’s utter disgust more than ever. At a time when it’s never been more understandable to take your eye off the ball, we need his rage for all seasons, demanding standards, insisting on the need to smash people, lunging two-footed on perspective, then standing over it.

Heroes and villains

There can only be one hero this week. He led from the front in the midfield trenches, he put up with the idiosyncrasies of blazers and selection committees in a bid to organise us. Then he educated us, scribbling on the screen and insisting we stop it there until he had patiently explained what was wrong with going zonal.

He taught us all we know about moral courage and honesty of effort and taking each game on its merits.

He’s had a terrible year, admitting his terror of Covid-19 and losing several of his old teammates and friends, but fronting up every time to eloquently recall their contributions.

Gilesy, 80 yesterday, happy birthday and thanks.

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