I spent my son's first birthday in a windowless, fortified concrete structure in Kabul. It was a tough day (relatively speaking, in the context of that apocalyptic place), for all the reasons you’d expect, but none more acute than the revelatory feeling that no vocation, no sense of duty, no professional ambition, no financial remuneration; none of it was worth the sacrifice of missing any birthday, let alone your oldest kids' first.
It’s one thing to miss it for a World Cup final, or climbing Everest, or winning an All-Ireland but it’s quite another to miss it because of Osama Bin Laden's life choices. Yet, 14 years almost to the day after I watched the Twin Towers fall from the college bar in Galway, I sat there, in a soulless room, impossibly far away from home, staring at a tv screen and a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game, listening to - of all things - a commentator describe the ritual of fathers and sons going to ball games.
The description was not random. Baseball being baseball, there is a lot of dead time for announcers to fill with anecdotes and fables, and fathers and sons are manna from heaven for them. That day of all days, a day never to be re-lived or reclaimed by either my son or myself, such fables hit like a fastball to the solar plexus. The only thing that made it palatable was its author and its orator - the late, great Vin Scully. The legendary broadcaster died last week, aged 94.
Not long in Kabul and with baseball on the precipice of a post-season, Scully provided the unlikeliest of soundtracks to a September and October in that very lonely place. 2015, the year of my winter retreat, was Scully's penultimate year behind the mic after 67 years of calling games for his beloved Dodgers. When he started in 1950, the Dodgers were still in his native Brooklyn. When they migrated west to Los Angeles, he moved with them, as if a character in a Steinbeck novel.
As the city established itself as the most American of ideals - a place for new beginnings, Scully became its narrator. Through baseball's golden age as America's pastime, through the scandalous PED era, all the way through to its current iteration as a sport struggling to stay relevant in a market with an attention span shorter than a goldfish's memory, he was a constant on both on radio and television, providing an audible comfort blanket to an audience all too willing to be transported from the car or their couch to a ballpark in Kansas or San Diego.
I was willing. The room which we worked out of had a half dozen television screens in it, each one showing a different American news station, save for the screen above me, which - by some quirk of fate - was solely for baseball. Background noise for an office that never slept. More times than I care to remember, I lifted my head from my own computer screen and fixed my gaze on Clayton Kershaw as he sat another batter, all while Vin Scully gave an eight-minute soliloquy on the history of the beard, from Leviticus and Deuteronomy, though Alexander the Great, to Abe Lincoln, all told without missing a pitch.
If there was one thing I learned that fall in Kabul, it was that a baseball inning will last just as long as it takes Vin Scully to say exactly what he has to say, and not a moment longer.
The return of the club championships to GAA fields across the island is usually a reason to celebrate.
The club, after all, is the acorn from which great oak trees grow, but literally every sporting thing that transpired across the country this past weekend did so in the shadow of the horrific news of the tragic death of Clonoulty-Rossmore’s Dillon Quirke, who died after taking ill during a senior club championship game in Semple Stadium on Friday evening.
Quirke, 24, had been a member of the Tipperary senior hurling team for the last three seasons, and that community, as well as the broader GAA community, was united in grief at the tragedy of losing one of their most beloved sons.
That it happened as he was doing what he did so well on a field that must have meant so much to him only adds to the brutal tragedy of it all.
Though Dillon Quirke was known to most of us as a Tipperary hurler first and foremost, it will be his club, Clonoulty-Rossmore, that will undoubtedly assume the unspoken primary responsibility for supporting his family and loved ones.
It is, somewhat sadly, what GAA clubs do better than any one other thing; they rally. They organise. They hold hands and link arms and they protect. Petty squabbles are put aside. Team selections and talk of split seasons forgotten.
Having a voluntary club at the centre of a community, one which provides young women and men athletic opportunity to reach for their dreams, all the while supporting people within its family at times of such unfathomable sadness…that is more valuable than any All-Ireland medal.
The Premier League returns, and mercifully, it does so with some surprises. Liverpool, so devastatingly impressive in pre-season, were first to stumble, drawing 2-2 at newly-promoted Fulham on Saturday, in a game that became a throw-back to a time when strikers were big and a little rough around the edges.
For the Cottagers, the ever dependably undependable Aleksandar Mitrovic was playing like a cross between Mark Hartley and Zlatan. For the ’Pool, new signing Darwin Nunez scored one and created another in a performance that proved that there is still a place for the “big man” in the modern game.