Tadhg Coakley: The 10 sporting emotions this summer has evoked

Is it just me or has sport made this summer more glorious? And we’re still only in August with so much more to look forward to.
Tadhg Coakley: The 10 sporting emotions this summer has evoked

AN UPLIFTING MOMENT: Kyle Hayes wheels away in delight after his sensational individual goal in Limerick’s Munster SHC final win over Tipperary. It was a piece of rare brilliance that left our columnist wondering just how the Kildimo-Pallaskenry man managed it. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Now is the winter of ourdiscontent

Made glorious summer by this sun of York;

And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house

In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

— William Shakespeare’s Richard III

Is it just me or has sport made this summer more glorious?

And we’re still only in August with so much more to look forward to.

Maybe it’s because last summer was such a washout and the spring of 2021 was hollow with uncertainties.

Maybe it is just me.

In 2020 I took a conscious decision to step back from sport to finish writing two books. So I didn’t engage with sport for most of the year. And then a certain virus made my fasting appear immaterial and foolish.

So, when my nephew Thomas asked me to watch last year’s FA Cup final with him on August 1 in a holiday home in South Kerry, I agreed. And I was spellbound by the sheer beauty of the football and the players. It was mesmeric, I couldn’t believe it.

I was transformed back into my seven-year-old self seeing the ineffable beauty of George Best for the first time and the world and time spun silently around me.

And that’s fine. That’s normal. Since sport reopened in Ireland last May, it’s been one gift after another. And, because we had become unused to receiving such gifts, we’re all the more grateful for them. Well, we should be. An rud is annamh is iontach, the seanfhocal says and if what’s seldom isn’t wonderful then we’ve become too jaded to feel anything.

That’s not normal.

So if the pitches seem greener, the colours of the jerseys more vivid, the football goals more thrilling, the tennis whites whiter, the cycling ascents more arduous, the rugby hits more brutal, the golf chips more glorious, the hurling saves more miraculous, the heartbreak of lost Olympic dreams more heartbreaking, then that’s the way it should be.

And if our emotions are more intense and more dizzying, then — God damn it all to hell — we deserve it.

Here are my top 10 sporting emotions from the summer of 2021 so far.

1: Gratitude that the rates of Covid had allowed public health advisors to facilitate the return to sport in May. In the knowledge that girls and boys and women and men were playing together again, as I once did, in normal times. As generations of others have done before me.

2: Joy at the celebration of football in the European Championship. Watching teams like Italy and Spain and England and Belgium and Portugal and Switzerland conjure up magical games from out of the ether, their loveliness radiating out to us on hot summer nights. And then there’s the joy of Giorgio.

3: Hope in the great Cork underage successes this year. If we don’t have hope we don’t have much.

4: Wonder at the Kyle Hayes goal for Limerick against Tipperary in the Munster hurling final. Wonder at how something like that is imaginable, let alone possible. The novel Not Art by the Hungarian Peter Esterhazy tells the story of the author’s relationship with his mother but it’s done through the medium of football. When, as an old man, Esterhazy meets a brilliant footballer (now also old) he embraces him and tells him how happy he is ‘that my soap-smelling God had created a world in which a man like him is possible’ and how meeting him contains within it the universe, ‘or if not the universe then the past, present and future’. That’s exactly how I feel about Kyle Hayes.

5: Delight at witnessing young Irish women and men winning Olympic medals, their lifelong hopes — to paraphrase Emily Dickenson — having become things with feathers, forever perched in our souls. And what a delight we have in Kellie Anne Harrington.

Kellie Harrington and Aidan Walsh pictured this afternoon at Dublin Airport with their Olympic medals. Picture: Colin Keegan / Collins Dublin
Kellie Harrington and Aidan Walsh pictured this afternoon at Dublin Airport with their Olympic medals. Picture: Colin Keegan / Collins Dublin

6: Awe at Tadej Pogačar claiming the final mountain stage (Stage 18) of the Tour de France at Luz Ardiden in the Pyrenees, replicating his win on the Col du Portet the day before. Sealing the general classification as he did so. Watching the Tour this year was such a pleasure — a kind of vicarious trip to La Belle France itself, which I miss so much. But the imperious way that Pogacar brushed aside Jonas Vingegaard and Richard Carapaz in the final kilometre at Luz Ardiden, you knew that he could have kept riding up that mountain forever. It’s awe inspiring to think what the human body can achieve in sport and Pogačar is the embodiment of that.

7: Disgust at the racism in sport exemplified by the attacks on Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka after their penalty misses in the Euros. Disgust too at the sexism in sport exemplified by the fining of the Norwegian women’s beach handball team for wearing shorts rather than bikini bottoms. In that sport men can wear tops and shorts ‘four inches above the knee’, but women are forced to wear midriff tops and bikini bottoms.

8: Admiration of Emma Raducanu’s dazzling debut performance in Wimbledon. We forget how vulnerable young sports people are and the pressures they endure. And being British at Wimbledon means the most serious levels of stress. The most amazing thing about these athletes is how they pick themselves up and do it again and again. How can we not admire that?

9 & 10: Love and Loss at the Open Golf Championship. The British Open was my mother’s favourite golf competition, she loved it. And I was thinking of her as I watched Collin Morikawa’s stunning final round to win the Claret Jug at Royal St George’s on July 18. How she would have enjoyed it all: Morikawa’s calm demeanour, his neatness and understated presence, his slow backswing, his nerveless irons, his brave putting, the sun, the blue sky, the green grass, the deep bunkers, the crowds, the undulating links in deepening shadow as the sun set on a glorious day of golf. My mother, Kitty Corbett from Bweeng, would have been 100 years old on the day after the Open’s final round and as I sat there and watched it all unfold I knew she was watching with me and my emotions were those of love and loss.

In the second chapter of her 2018 novel Normal People, Sally Rooney sets a scene where Marianne is watching Connell playing in a school soccer match and he scores a goal.

And her reaction to seeing that makes her realise how different she is to the others in her school, how ‘weirder’.

Late in the book, years later, in a brilliant piece of circularity (Rooney really is a genius), Connell looks back at the goal and how his friend Rob had run on to the pitch and screamed his name and ‘began to kiss his head with wild exuberant kisses’. Connell reflects how much he too had just ‘wanted to be normal, to conceal the parts of himself that he found shameful and confusing.’ Now we all find ourselves wanting to be normal people living in a normal world. And this glorious summer of sport has helped us take a step closer to that.

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