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Sheer joy of sport gives us a welcome reminder of normality

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Galway players celebrate in Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

Galway players celebrate in Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

Galway players celebrate in Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

Fittingly, the women of Cork and Galway brought down the curtain on the bulk of our GAA inter-county action with the All-Ireland senior camogie final yesterday.

The GAA women’s move towards central action at Croke Park is a long overdue official recognition of the status of these determined sportswomen, who must no longer play in the shadows and on “back pitches.”

The camogie players of Galway just edged a three-point win over Cork in a thrilling and very sporting final, which ended in a welter of excitement. Both sides gave their all in this contest, but in the end Galway won the O’Duffy Cup, leaving Cork to ponder what might have been and wait for another day.

On Saturday, Tyrone outplayed Mayo in a hard but sporting men’s senior All-Ireland final at GAA HQ. Tyrone once more lifted their game to notch their fourth championship title with grit and style. For Mayo, it was yet another year of heartbreak, and one more time, so-near yet-so-far.

However, the good news from the dejected followers of the “Green Above Red” is a determination to go again – at least one more time with feeling in a 2022 tilt at bringing the Sam Maguire Cup west.

And as victors and vanquished from all counties ponder the highs and lows of another season, fans in many counties can hold to one core thought: “From now on, my county is back in the championship – and there is always next year.”

That is one of the miracle mysteries of most sports, and the marvellous GAA family from Malin to Mizen are great evidence of how that never-say-die spirit of competitiveness lives on. The spotlight moves to club contests at the heart of the GAA when parish is pitted against parish.

As evenings shorten, we see clubhouse lights and floodlit pitches across the island as clear evidence of the beating heart of our communities, with men and women doing tremendous voluntary work to promote sport, health, well-being and community solidarity.

The Irish people, like most nationalities across the globe, are just emerging from a long and arduous battle against the Covid-19 pandemic, with serious curbs on our liberties and deprivation of some very simple pleasures of life. Amid it all, we were lucky to have had a curtailed version of our sporting contests as a balm for the soul, in the GAA, soccer, rugby and some other games.

Overall, we have also been very lucky to have this continuity of sport, which of course had to be adapted to the exigencies of fighting a lethal pandemic.

The overall threat is not entirely past – but happily all the signs are that we are about to prevail and a greater sense of normality is now very likely.

For this we owe a great debt of gratitude to those selfless GAA volunteers, and indeed those who promote and organise the other great sports. The joy of Ireland is that, as the GAA season winds up, our sports-mad people can switch their interest to the other games, notably rugby and soccer.

Covid 19 has taught us much – but one lesson is a reminder of the sheer joy of sport.

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