Colin Sheridan: Confessions of an Irish sporting childhood

As kids, we learned there was the golf we saw on TV, and then there was real golf, played on links courses during infinite winter

The thrill of playing sport as a kid is a treasured memory for Colin Sheridan, one he has passed on to his own children. Picture: Getty Images

Just like Ted Cruz, my dad always tried to do right by his kids. We never quite made it to Cancún during an unprecedented world catastrophe, but he did bring as many of us as he could fit in the car to Rosses Point every Easter weekend to watch the West of Ireland golf championship.

Dressed like mini-Shackletons, we’d brace the Atlantic tempest and witness shotmaking that would embarrass Herbert Warren Wind.

As kids, we learned there was the golf we saw on TV, and then there was real golf, played on links courses during infinite winter, quail-high ball flight and knockdown 4 irons travelling 150 yards. We’d take shelter in sparse gorse in between matches. There were sandwiches and leaky flasks of tea. You’d fall asleep on the way home in the car, wind burned and more than a little inspired. Garth McGimpsey, Eamon Brady, Arthur Pierse; artists who would never become household names on PGA tours, but alchemists in their own right, writing subtle verse with bladed irons, a poetry that was consumed by few, but appreciated by all who did.

Maybe driving the hour plus to Rosses Point was just something to get us out of the house on a Bank Holiday weekend. Maybe we spent more time chasing rabbits round the sand dunes than studying Jody Fanagan’s stinger; either way, the pilgrimage served a higher purpose, it opened a window to a sporting life other than the Gaelic football, which was as organic to us as going to school. It wouldn’t have mattered if it was cricket on the mall in Castlebar or a point-to-point in Belclare, at worst, you were outdoors, exposed to the rhythm and rapture of something different.

At it’s best, it made you want to play.

To be clear, my dad — like all our mums and dads — was not a United States Senator from Texas, so Cancún was never on the cards. More pertinently, there was never a global pandemic restricting our movements, so we did what all kids did and set our clocks around sports events that lit our imaginations with each passing season.

No matter how turgid or tryless the rugby of our youth, each February we box kicked over the roof of the house, sprinting from one side to the other, trying to catch it before it hit the tarmac. The laneway from front to back was tight; any obstruction on the path would send you into the hedge, and the ball into the arms of the imaginary French full-back, who was naturally mercurial and tragically misunderstood.

April, and the US Masters would see the garden become Augusta, a 30 yard par four, with a brutal dog-leg left, that required a lay-up, unless you were daft enough to risk cutting the corner and blow your chance at your first major.

June, and Amen Corner became SW18, the garden hose used to line out dimensions of centre-court, an umpires chair perched perilously upon the boiler house. Dubious line calls followed by epic on-court meltdowns, which often led to racquets being flung at heads. Revenge, if not found on the court, was often exacted on a hastily convened time-trial course, set up in homage to le Grand Tour.

Single speed bikes raced up gentle hills that felt like Ventoux (there was even a yellow t-shirt — a maillot jaune — that was passed around from rider to rider). Cadet Cola was the EPO of the day; I’m a little ashamed to admit we were all doing it. Racing clean was simply not an option, and the omerta of the peloton was guaranteed; Cadet Cola was on a list of banned substances already issued by our parents.

Our young bodies broken by the Mayo Alps, the more geraitric pace of test cricket was the perfect foil. Sliotars bowled overarm at makeshift wickets. Cracked hurls used as cricket bats. Outfielders, laying like lizards in the sun, staring skyward at the jet streams of transatlantic flights, wondering who could be going where, and why.

Olympic summers saw long-jump pits dug, flower pots used as shot puts, brush handles as javelins. World Cups were defined by a new football bought especially for the occasion, kept clean like Sunday shoes, before inevitably succumbing to the way of the hedge.

Is this self-indulgent navel-gazing? I don’t know, but, what I do know is, what was true for me as a kid was true for kids in Boston Mass, and Krugersdorp, and Monrovia. I know this, because, like many of us, I later had the privilege of being on a few of those jets I squinted so curiously at as a distracted kid-outfielder.

Those caminos proved how alike we all are, and how, especially as children, we all wanted the same thing; to play.

Such wistful yearning seems flagrant folly now. But, if the excitement my kids exude when told they are going to go cycle their bikes around an abandoned car park for an hour is anything to go by, then there exists an unprecedented opportunity to capitalise on the loneliness of their current incarceration, once all restrictions on their lives are finally forgotten.

Young kids cannot be nostalgic for something they have no memory of, so, imagine their wide-eyed joy at realising there is life beyond five kilometres.

That sports fields and ballet halls are places little people just like them actually congregate, without fear of censure from their parents or neighbours or social media, to run and fall and dance and laugh their little heads off.

With every passing week, many of us feel we are failing as parents; falling behind with homeschooling, vexed by our children’s understandable frustration. Their impatience made all the more understandable when framed in the context of the endless olympic summers of our childhood.

“We persuade ourselves,” Stoppard wrote, “that the universe is modestly employed in unfolding our destination”.

We may be less prisoners to our current fate than we think. But, when it passes, maybe we should cut ourselves some slack, especially when it comes to the kids.

They will have earned their freedom. Back to Stoppard, then, who adapted the words of Russian philosopher Alexander Herzen in The Coast of Utopia: “Because children grow up, we think a child’s purpose is to grow up. But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what only lives for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment... Life’s bounty is in its flow, later is too late.”