Familiar sights and sounds so welcome as championship action returns
GAA club players eager to embrace revived season and a return to some semblance of normality
A view of closed off seating at Parnell Park for the Kilmacud Crokes v Ballyboden St Endas Dublin senior hurling championship clash. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
It was the sort of challenge you can imagine he was waiting four months to make. You mightn’t say there was malice in it but you couldn’t say for sure that there wasn’t either.
Anyway, as referee Sean Stack came in to adjudicate on the situation, the thought occurred that this was going to be an excellent test of the quality of his mercy. If ever a plea of, “It’s me first one, ref!” was going to have a special resonance, surely it would be when it was the first one since the arse fell out of the world.
Think of all the water that has gushed under the bridge since young O’Connor last got to bury a shoulder into a forward with notions. All those days training on his own, all those Zoom calls and team quizzes and nutrition plans. All that wondering would there be a club championship to come back to at all, all that waiting for bit of a chance to get back at it.
To be back at a game and to hear him call a minute’s silence and then Amhrán na bhFiann, it’s a small dose of goodness
Think of all that and then think of the opposition’s county-man full-forward presenting himself wide open for an early straightener. Who among us can say they would have let the opportunity pass? There isn’t a judge in the land who’d convict, surely. Well, except Sean Stack, who was reaching for his pocket before O’Connor even got to turn and plead his case. One minute, one tackle, one yellow card.
It is, of course, great to have it back. Even in this form, even with nothing that you could call a crowd in the stands and even with the real world all around you, it’s still a mighty thing to be out at a match. Any match.
There was a minute’s silence before throw-in for former Ballyboden chairman Brendan Moran and as he was announcing it on the tannoy, Gerry Grogan declared that the silence was also for all the people who have died of coronavirus. We’re in its shadow wherever we go.
But this is good. This is a start. It was good even just to hear that voice again. You might think you don’t know Gerry Grogan but you’ve heard him a million times. He’s the voice on the tannoy on big days and nights in Croke Park, calling out the teams and keeping the whole show rolling. To be back at a game and to hear him call a minute’s silence and then Amhrán na bhFiann, it’s a small dose of goodness.
The game itself, let’s not dwell on it for too long. Crokes were good, Boden were very much not good and it was an accountancy exercise long before the end.
“Am I surprised?” said Ballyboden manager Joe Fortune afterwards.
“No, look, I’m taken aback with ourselves. I thought we were in a better place. I have spoken to managers over the last couple of weeks and they have all kind of said the same thing, Liam Dunne said it on Friday night too, you don’t really know where you are until you get back out to competitive fare. The last few weeks and months have been strange and now it’s up to us to lift it again.”
Sing it, Joe. Up in the press box, we were a small bit taken aback with ourselves too, now that you mention it. Any longing we had felt during all those months of not being at games dissipated fairly quickly when the ball was thrown in and we found that Boden had made two changes from the team that had been posted on the Dublin GAA Twitter account ahead of throw-in.
It’s not that we don’t know what we’ve got ’til its gone. It’s that we know exactly what it was like when it was gone
Dammit! Had totally forgotten that dummy teams were a thing. It took us until the drinks break on 16 minutes to work out exactly who the two changes were, not to mind who was playing where. We were rusty, clearly. You definitely couldn’t accuse us of having been doing any training we weren’t supposed to be. We’ll hopefully get it right come inter-county time.
If indeed it comes at all. The clouds seem to be gathering in the wider world and nobody can really say with any confidence where we are going, Covid-wise. The optimism of a few weeks ago seems to be ebbing a little and the voices calling for more restrictions and fewer relaxations are starting to sound more serious than before. It may very well be that we get a few weeks of this and that’s our lot for the year.
Which is why, as the two teams hurled away yesterday, the main thought that sprung to mind was go. Go do it. That thing you like doing, go do it. Go and hurl or play football or dance or act or do whatever. As long as you keep it within the ditches of the Government guidelines, go and be.
It’s not that we don’t know what we’ve got ’til its gone. It’s that we know exactly what it was like when it was gone. And what it might be like again.
Best to go and take what you can from it now while it’s still on offer.