Having written this column now for a number of years, I feel it’s time to make an admission, so that if in future months or years you sense a certain exquisite torment, a kind of all-consuming dread seeping out from between the lines, you’ll be able to understand and hopefully empathise.
I am a Manchester United fan. My doctor says it’s actually a pretty mild case, and that with the right precautions I should be free to go on to lead a relatively healthy life. She’s told me it shouldn’t necessarily stop me from living my life, and I don’t intend to let it.
But of course there will be flare-ups, times when you can’t help but put yourself in harm’s way. Like when your club – the very thing in your life that clouds your brain, clogs your vital arteries and withers your spirit – is linked to a fresh young talent out of Ecuador, who ripped it up in last year’s Copa Libertadores.
You open your laptop. You fight the urge for 10 long seconds, then click on YouTube and search for the young fellow in question.
There follows three mins of edited highlights, and even above the deafening techno that is inevitably overlaid over such compilations, it becomes clear that you have the next Lionel Messi on your hands. Our crack scouting and recruitment department has struck gold again!
It doesn’t matter that these moments of magic are presented completely free of context or status. The pictures don’t lie. This kid is literally unstoppable. Is that Boca Juniors he’s tearing to shreds?
Or is that footage from Ecuador’s notoriously competitive u-17s league? At this stage, it doesn’t matter. If he can do it on a wet Tuesday night in Guayaquil, my mind is already made up.
Last weekend, as GAA club highlight after GAA club highlight assailed my Twitter feed, I felt a similar rush to acclaim certain truths to be self-evident, on the back of 30-second video clips.
For instance, I’m more than happy to declare Andrew Cotter of Douglas to be the greatest free-taker in the history of Gaelic games, and perhaps the greatest dead-ball striker in any sport, of any era.
For those of you who haven’t seen the footage, last Sunday afternoon Cotter stood over a free a full 55 metres from the end-line, no more than 10 yards in from the sideline, having been told that it was the last kick of the game.
Only a point would do to keep Douglas in with even a fighting chance of qualification out of their group in the Cork senior football championship, and so a point was exactly what he delivered.
The ball travelled an age in the air, and still only barely cleared the crossbar. If it had been even one yard further out, it would have dropped short, which made it all the more aesthetically pleasing.
If I’d been simply told about Cotter’s heroics, I would’ve quietly taken at least 15 yards off the reported length of the kick, taking into account the inevitable exaggeration and outright lying that usually goes on in this scenario, and I’d still have been impressed.
But the explosion in streaming coverage over the last two years in particular, started in large part because of Covid but now happily continued in so many counties, allows us all to see and luxuriate in these moments almost as soon as they’ve happened.
I was at a club game in Athenry on Saturday evening myself, saw a brilliant goal scored by former All-Ireland minor winner Mike Martin of Milltown, and was able to watch it back at my leisure on Twitter within a couple of hours.
Judging by the evidence of 2½ minutes of highlights elsewhere, Dan Shanahan was still creating chaos at the edge of the square for Lismore in the Waterford senior hurling championship, at the age of 45 and in his 30th season of senior hurling with his club.
And still the video clip that got the most traction last weekend was of the final whistle of Fossa’s match against Castlegregory in the Kerry junior premier football championship, shot by Twitter user Aoife Dowd.
The whistle was barely out of the referee’s mouth before seemingly every child in a 10-mile radius of the place materialised and made a beeline for David Clifford at the far end of the field.
Meanwhile fellow current All-star, and probable 2022 All-Star Paudie Clifford was quietly shaking the referee’s hand in the foreground, while having to deal with the only two kids too lazy (or too cool?) to run the entire length of the pitch to surround David.
Throw in the majesty of the backdrop provided by the Dingle peninsula in summertime and it’s a beautiful, funny 15-second snapshot of the pure incongruity of someone of Clifford’s genuinely world-class athletic stature operating at such a level.
Sometimes – almost always, in fact – clips on the internet don’t tell the full story, but the unrestrained enthusiasm of those kids in Castlegregory is a welcome antidote for those of us who this time last week were frantically googling Marko Arnautovic’s age, knowing full well that our actions represented the very nadir of sporting fandom. Man United fans will take crumbs of comfort wherever we can currently find them.