Kieran Shannon: Sometimes we need an escape from escapism

At a time like this a columnist, or at least one who covers sport, has two choices. To write about It or not to write about It, that is the question.
Kieran Shannon: Sometimes we need an escape from escapism
Pairc Ui Chaoimh, the home of Cork GAA, has become a coronavirus testing centre.v Picture: Dan Linehan.

At a time like this a columnist, or at least one who covers sport, has two choices. To write about It or not to write about It, that is the question.

Want some escapism or the current reality? Care for some nostalgia or the grim present and some speculation about the uncertain future?

Everywhere we turn there are lists. Lists galore. Have you ever been asked what are your favourite sports documentaries more than you have the past fortnight? At the moment our notifications inbox on Twitter is being inundated with the latest respondents to a chain tweet where they’ve been nominated to name four [professional] footballers who ‘have meant a lot in your life’.

It was a bit of fun at the start but then it began to drag, not least when you’d see what else was coming up on your feed: America and the UK, two countries that between them would have provided the majority of your sporting, musical and cultural heroes as well as a home to most of your relatives that left here, having to contend with being led by narcissistic incompetents who believe that the people are there to serve the economy — and their own business — instead of the economy being there to serve the people.

How can you think or care about all the love a Fowler and Keane and the original Ronaldo still generate when the land of your grandfather’s grandchildren is at the mercy of a morally-bankrupt governing party and a broken system?

Pick up the morning papers and there are numerous reports about what the 2020 GAA championships might look like.

Now, this writer over the years — decades — has written as many articles about championship and league structures as anyone, including just one a fortnight ago on what the 2020 version might appear like.

Good old-school do-or-die knockout, we floated before most. But right now, honestly, am I bothered how it’s run off or even if it is run off or not, if it were to become the first GAA championship never played at all?

The day the GAA shut down all activity until at least March 29, I knew immediately what my next column was going to be about.

What a window of opportunity for players and kids and coaches as well to upskill on their own! Channel your inner Ring and Kobe! Even when the games stop, The Process continues!

But now every second podcast seems to feel like CPD OD.

The kids’ teams’ WhatsApp groups are being bombarded with the latest skills challenge. Are they all there to help or are some there more for show?

There have been times over the last few days where you’d nearly wish they could be shut down as well.

But then you see another article or tweet about or from a sporting figure or institution. Nurses and doctors who are camogie players and footballers in their spare time serving and reporting on the frontline.

Croke Park and Páirc Uí Chaoimh and clubhouses around the country being there for the people in their time of need. The local club forming a cohort of helpers to assist the vulnerable and elderly in the community with their shopping and other daily needs.

And you think: Can there be anything or anyone more relevant and life-affirming as sportspeople and a sporting organisation like that?

The truth, or at least the likelihood, is that already you’ve been through the gambit with This. During It.

You’ve been out with the kids doing the skills challenges yourself, then had enough of them — the kids as well as all the skills challenges.

You’ve listened to a podcast re-watching and evaluating some ‘classic’ old game, then skipped to one on the scary reality of It, then skipped back over to the classic old game for some respite and then just said to hell with the lot of them and just put on some Tidal.

You want some escapism and what better form of escapism than sport?

But then you want some escape from that escape and its sheer frivolity, and instead crave some information, updates, reality, as brutal and as frightening as it may be, until you need and want to escape some more.

And the harsh truth is that this rollercoaster is just beginning; Dr Tony Holohan the other day pretty much said so when depressingly pointing to that 0-point where the X and Y axis meet when asked where we were on that curve we’re all supposedly trying to flatten.

And on that rollercoaster there are going to be some dips. People will enrage and deflate you just as people will inspire and lift you.

You will compile lists of your favourite games and players and you will discard and dismiss those lists.

At times it’ll be okay if you don’t feel like going out for that walk and or hitting that ball against the wall, just as there will be times when no, it’s not okay to just sit there and it’s time you need a shake and to go out there and just play or just walk.

It’s not just that you’ll have good days and bad days. Some of your day will be good and some of your day will be bad, dark; the trick will be to just try to let some light into it.

And sometimes, sport could provide that light, all the more so when we see it through the eyes of our children, or how we saw or remembered it as children.

In the coming weeks and months this column is likely to reflect that whole range of themes and emotions.

There may well be lists with us getting all worked up about what games Declan McBennett and his RTÉ crew should be resurrecting from the archives to show your kids and to enjoy once more yourself.

We’ll likely at some stage have to pay tribute to someone lost to this awful affliction; already, just last week, this space here was reserved as a salute to Dr Aidan Moran, whose passing was the first we’ve known that couldn’t be honoured in a public gathering.

And so, as a temporary escape from all that, we might delve into the merits of veging and going all retro (and retrograde) and playing Championship Manager 2001-2002 again.

We might even try and rank all those skills challenges and realise that they’ve all been coming from a good place and trying to make this harsh world that bit better.

In the meantime, whatever you do yourself, take care of yourself and others.


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