Frank Roche: 'No sport but we'll survive without it'

New reality is that Covid-19 is now making us prioritise what really matters in this world

EMPTY: St Conleth’s Park in Newbridge, Kildare at the time on Sunday when Kildare should have been playing against Cavan in a National Football League Division 2. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Frank Roche

Welcome to the Toy Department when there's no toys left in the building and the kids are all at home, in a Netflix world of self-isolation, asking Mum and Dad why they can't have a play date.

Welcome to Day Five, AC. The fifth day after Covid-19 brought Ireland to a standstill.

The Toy Department - for those of you who haven't spent most of your adult lives hanging around newspaper sports desks - is one of those epithets used by others engaged in more serious/important/stultifying areas of news gathering to describe what we do.

We write about toys. Games. Froth and frivolity. All deadly serious, of course, for those inside the bubble - and much of it dressed in the pinstripe garb of big business, generating millions by the multiple.

And now, in a matter of hours, not even days, we've been left with nothing to write about.


The thing is, we write about it because people are interested. For many people engaged in mundane jobs, over-stretched by mortgage repayments and creche fees and weighed down by the endless monotony of getting by, week after week, the weekend release of sport gives us something to hold onto.

It may be a match to play; to watch in the flesh; or even to chaperone, your six-year-old dreaming of being the next Con O'Callaghan or Séamus Callanan as you drive him to his Saturday morning nursery.

Meanwhile, being the obsessive type, you have also squeezed numerous hours of armchair viewing into your me-time schedule - not just on Saturdays and Sundays but on those Champions League nights too.

It already seems a more innocent time when we talked of things going viral. Now everything has gone, literally, because of a virus we had never heard of until a few weeks ago.

When will we ever get to love our sport again? When we get to live our lives again. Simple as.

Those of us old enough to vividly remember the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001 are now wondering if the use of that word - crisis - seems an affront to the English language.

Yes, it was terrible at the time for farmers and everyone associated with agri-business - and even something of a nuisance for those of us left with no GAA matches to cover.

But if that was a crisis, how do you describe this? How can you possibly do linguistic justice to its global reach and lethal exponential growth? It's no longer simply a case of livestock and livelihoods at risk. Actual lives, in unfathomable numbers, are imperilled.

That's why the show can't go on - despite the blinkered attempts of the Cheltenham hordes and the Temple Bar numbskull choir.

If the latter had been singing Nearer my God to Thee - the last song played aboard the Titanic before band members met their icy maker - you might have reserved just a smidgen of understanding. Instead we had Sweet Caroline.

Sweet inappropriate Jesus.

But now the pubs are shut and sport is in lockdown. (apart from those Olympic boxing qualifiers in London; don't get us started again). This is all very scary and all very surreal. Last Thursday, when Leo made his speech from Washington, one of my initial reactions was: "What now? What do I possibly write about?"


Now, as I write, it's Monday and that question seems far less important. Yes, those of us in the Toy Department will get creative. We will research sports stories that have a certain topicality in this brave new world without sport. We will pen features that, hopefully, can lift some of the gloom, even temporarily. We will unearth stories from the past that may resonate with the here-and-now.

But while that cliché about the vagaries of real life putting sport in perspective was both very true and simultaneously irksome, the new reality is that Covid-19 is now making us prioritise what really matters.

Sport, for the moment, is a Cheltenham non-runner behind the far more important stuff like job security, the economy, or maybe that not-so-looming Leaving Cert exam for your child. And all of those are a distant second behind health, welfare and survival - especially for the most vulnerable among us.

This is no time for sticking your head in the sand or your hand in a shake with another. It is certainly no time for some grand social experiment in herd immunity, as appeared to be the original thinking on Planet Boris before yesterday's belated announcement of new measures.

You could hardly accuse the English soccer authorities of showing their tardy Prime Minister what leadership means, given that they only acted on Friday morning after one of their managers and one of their players had tested positive for coronavirus.

By then, already too much sport had happened last week.


And by Sunday evening, there was no Match of the Day 2 and no League Sunday to enjoy or endure, depending on how your team had fared.

We better get used to it.

The closest we came to any action was Aidan Fogarty, of former Kilkenny fame, strutting his stuff on Dancing with the Stars. Dancing behind closed doors. In a semi-final that suddenly became a final.

One early hint that, whenever semi-normal life returns, countless sporting rulebooks and competition regulations will have to be hastily rewritten to embrace the new, calendar-restricted reality of sport after Covid-19.

We did stumble upon some sport, mind you, on Sunday night: Classic GAA on eir Sport was serving up the 1990 All-Ireland football final between Cork and Meath.

Maybe it's a sign of getting old, or a barometer of how both counties have subsequently regressed from those peak years, but I recognised those fabled footballers in red and green more quickly than I would several of the current generation.

As these arch-rivals chased and harried and kicked - usually the ball, quite often in a scattergun direction - we were given ample proof that, back then, Gaelic football was a far more random game than it is today.

Possession was not quite king.

But we were also reminded that life is infinitely more precious than possession.

Two of that Cork team, goalkeeper John Kerins and forward Michael McCarthy, were taken far too early from us.

Life without sport may be hard to contemplate.

But life trumps all.