Joanne O’Riordan: The deep comfort of the simple daily sporting ritual

I have rediscovered my ability at heading a ball during quarantine

Conor Keane of Killarney Legion takes a free during the Kerry SFC final replay against South Kerry in November 2015. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Conor Keane of Killarney Legion takes a free during the Kerry SFC final replay against South Kerry in November 2015. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

How are you doing? This is the new question we now find ourselves asking one another. It may be gooey way to start a column, and in the sports world, we often don’t get in touch with that mental and emotional side. I hope you’re safe and healthy. I hope your loved ones are doing well. As I now tell one of my brothers, I’m thriving, not surviving anymore.

Sure, some days thriving means busting a gut while exercising. Other days thriving means baking 60 cookies and eating them all by myself. But whatever it is you have done today, kudos to you. This is a judgment-free column. In fact, my roots are so bad, I’m in no shape to judge anyone.

But spring is springing, and that means a new dawn, a new era . . . or day 2,464 in quarantine. Certain aspects of life are still on pause while other facets carry on.

The newly implemented GAA spring ritual of dedicating April to clubs is another thing on pause for the foreseeable future – but in an incredibly deadly crisis, club players are now sitting asking themselves if the whole thing is worth it. Ball is life 99.9999 per cent of the time. The message is still clear: keep training, keep tipping away and before you know it, you’ll be back on the pitch like spring lambs, hunting the fields down, exposing space and becoming the prize winner at the end. Disclaimer: unlike the lambs, players do not get slaughtered.

Sunday just gone, my father and I would have usually made the trip back west to see our darlings behind in Killarney. You know, the club I’ve written about in past columns who’ve broken my heart, mended it, lifted it to drop it and crush it again. Those darlings.

Every year we’d go back, new year, new hopes, new aspirations and dreams. Club championship would probably be running right now, and I’d be telling a few friends in Rathmore, Gneeveguilla and other parts that when Legion were in town, their ass was grass. Peak WWE trash talk, same Legion misery. It’s what we play the game for.

But, the sort of annual tradition has ground to a halt, and new parts of life have to be discovered. How much variety can be found in your 2km run? How many times can you handpass off a wall until you realise no player or opposition will remain as dormant as the wall? How many windows can you potentially break by attempting to chip balls over the roof signifying a point? And that’s just for the players who are now working from home.

There are players, not just in Legion, but in other clubs who are on the frontline. Club volunteers who are now using their expertise and vizzy vests to drop essentials to those who are cocooning. From guards who are now stepping in to provide services they often wouldn’t, to the nurses, doctors and everyone working in the health service, who hour by hour are risking their lives to ensure the masses are safe.

So while my father and I have put our ritual on pause, it was time to seek another one. Slowly but surely, I’ve gathered that my nieces and nephews probably won’t be athletes. Hence, there is no point pushing them towards something they will hate me for, years in therapy because they couldn’t fulfil their aunt’s expectations (I’m now relying on an unborn and a two-month-old in Sweden).

So far, I’ve attempted a handpass off a wall (failed spectacularly), yoga (getting there), and a couple of other skills I forgot I had (turns out heading the ball was my thing). It’s slowly becoming my favourite part of the day.

The thing with rituals is they are deeply comforting. They can be incredibly distracting in a time where distractions are more than welcome. Being able to focus on one little thing that will get you up day after day is absolutely massive. And more importantly, they take your mind off of the unknown and the uncontrollable.

No games, few distractions and very little else to talk about, this is the new normal for now. In fact, it’ll take a long time for everything to feel normal again. Put it bluntly how long will it take for us to begin to feel comfortable in a stadium with maybe 20,000 people. What about 50,000 or 82,000? I’m looking forward to it, but in truth, I do not know.

What I do know is watching dodgy skills videos, attempting to recreate them and discovering rituals are keeping me sound of mind for the time being. I do know it might be a long time before my Legion lambs may roam again, flocking across every field in Kerry. Everything is temporary and will pass, just like this pandemic. Then the ball will go up, and we will all feel alive again.

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