Frank Roche: 'The concept of 'full house' is terrifying at a time when 2k is the new okay'

MAGNIFICENT: Donnchadh Walsh fires the ball past Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton for Kerry’s second goal in the 2013 All-Ireland SFC semi-final. The pass from Colm Cooper was one of the greatest ever seen in Croke Park. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Frank Roche

Today's challenge may constitute the most difficult of all faced in these unique times.

More head-wrecking than consciously eradicating your sub-conscious habit of touching nose, mouth and eyes every 30 seconds.

More onerous than remembering to wash your hands because you mindlessly turned that germ-infested tap after, you guessed it, washing your hands.

Here's the challenge: write a column about sport in the here-and-now, one that doesn't involve wistful nostalgia, without mentioning the 'C' word. Or, rather, either 'C' word.

Now that is tough. If you harboured sympathy for the superstitious actors terrified of calling 'The Scottish play' by its proper name (Mac … Macb … oh, better not, just in case) you can now see they had it easy by comparison.

What to call it, then? 'China Virus' is an insidious non-starter not alone because of its racist connotations but because the thought of aping Donald Trump makes us physically ill.

So let's just be suitably vague and call it 'The Thing'.

The thing about 'The Thing' is that it forces us to re-evaluate everything we deemed intrinsic to sport at its best: the more crowded and chaotic, the more gloriously uncontrolled, the better.


We used to love the idea that Croke Park on the first and third Sunday of September was always a guaranteed sell-out.

You could almost touch that great sporting intangible: the frisson of wide-eyed wonder that comes with being there, on All-Ireland day, just before the ball is thrown in.

You could touch something else too: your 20-stone neighbour spreading out, in all his corpulent glory, from the quivering seat alongside you.

Then two things happened. Firstly, instead of giving it numeric form (some close variation on 82,300) the GAA thought police decided in their infinite wisdom to declare the final attendance as a … 'Full House'. Secondly, they moved this annual double-whammy extravaganza to August.

And now we don't know will it happen in August or happen at all. Even if it does come to pass, in whatever month, we're scared petrified of being there, in the aforementioned 'Full House'.

This, in a claustrophobic nutshell, explains how our mindsets have changed in the most profound way possible in such a very short time.

We are all freaked out by social distancing - or, more precisely, by those who don't observe it as they lurch into our two-metre circle of distrust in the supermarket bog-roll aisle.

In those rare moments of levity, we allow ourselves to joke about social distancing. Sunday's TG4 repeat of the 2013 Dublin-Kerry classic led some of us to wonder if Jim Gavin had introduced this radical defensive strategy specifically with Donnchadh Walsh in mind as he ambled into glorious (self) isolation for Kerry's second goal.

That put Kerry five points ahead. But this was no exponential crisis-in-the-making for Dublin: within a minute, the soaring Paul Mannion had flattened the curve.

It had us longing for the moment when next we'll see these great rivals in the flesh - so long as there's no full house, of course. We should be thankful for small mercies: the Croke Park press box is sufficiently grandiose to allow safe distancing.

Memo to editor: don't send me to St Conleth's Park this side of a vaccine.

In this time of limited physical activity, as stomachs soften and healthy eating habits weaken, we can console ourselves that we're all in this together - that 2k is the new okay and once these restrictions are lifted, we hereby solemnly swear to play five-a-side three times a week in between training for Ironman.

Speaking of which, great movie: I must turn it on now. I'll leave Contagion - oops, almost mentioned the 'C' word - for another busy morning.