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No disease can ever take away the memories of those glorious sporting days


SANCTUARY: Stephen Cluxton kicks
the winning point in 2011. Photo: Brian Lawless/Sportsfile

SANCTUARY: Stephen Cluxton kicks the winning point in 2011. Photo: Brian Lawless/Sportsfile

SANCTUARY: Stephen Cluxton kicks the winning point in 2011. Photo: Brian Lawless/Sportsfile

Even as the clocks go forward this week, there is a yearning to rewind:  Back to an hour before anxiety closed in all around us.

To remember life pre-Covid-19’s grotesque besmirching of our old normality.  When crisis was a tightening of Jack McCaffrey’s hamstring or Johnny Sexton suddenly resembling a stalled motor in urgent need of jump leads.

 A time so carefree that a few incendiary words from Joe Brolly or Roy Keane  were parsed and audited as if they amounted to some grave State of the Union address.

Golden, jaunty yesteryear.

Or those hours of sorcery:  Lionel Messi, LeBron James or Seamie Callanan touching a level of divinity that ensured there was not a single atheist in the audience. Remember anticipation? A pint of stout and the smell of fresh-cut grass, a reminder that summer’s dance had begun.

It is less than two weeks since Liverpool and Athletico Madrid went toe-to-toe at Anfield, but already it feels like a fossilised memory. March has brought with it a terrible reconfiguring of the everyday, a jolt to the senses so concussive it might have been administered by Tyson Fury’s unforgiving hands of stone.

Euro 2020, a GAA summer, the Masters, Premier League, Six Nations and the Tokyo Olympics have been machine-gunned by an invisible, rapacious and terrifying enemy.  Sport, a mirror of life itself, is stuck in a Siberian permafrost; all we can do is greedily anticipate the thaw.

A friend, a lifer on Hill 16, said to me this week that he’d live with Dublin losing to Kerry, Mayo and Tyrone in the Super 8s, he’d nearly be happy for Meath to be good again, if it just meant there were games to go and watch.

He was joking and deadly serious.  His novena was for the world to spin again on that old insouciant axis which for decades we took for granted.

This is a time of horror: Apocalyptic newsreel from Italy, Ireland’s elderly waving at grandchildren from behind a heartbreaking prison of glass, jobs dissolving into the ether, all of these things are shaking society to its core.

O’Neill’s, that iconic outfitter of hurlers and footballers, has suspended the manufacture of GAA gear and, is instead, mass-producing medical scrubs.

Next to humanity’s fight for the high ground in the war with this merciless plague, sport is a triviality. And yet, it matters.  For our physical and mental well-being; for the unrivalled sense of community with which it decorates the year; for escapism, those life-affirming days when it makes an entire tribe feel a thousand feet tall.

Sport is a kind of oxygen for the soul. Think of bunting and flags flying in a village, a mini Times Square of joy, the sunburst of pride as a parish comes together to follow their own into a county final.

Remember that woozy afternoon, 30 years ago, when Dave O’Leary’s penalty washed away every trouble you had ever known?

Sons of Leitrim know the July Sunday in 1994 at The Hyde when Declan Darcy raised the Nestor Cup as intimately as they do a favourite inking:  Because it is tattooed to their essence.

With one kick in 1982, Seamus Darby sent a tsunami of liberation washing over Offaly; with his 1980 poetry, Joe Connolly gifted Galway their eternal proclamation;  Liam Griffin and Ger Loughnane offered Wexford and Clare guided, access-all-areas tours of Nirvana.

Shane Lowry carried Ireland to the summit of Mount Euphoria at Portrush last summer. 

Katie, Sonia, ROG, BOD, Eamon Coghlan, Stephen Roche, Ken Dohert y, Barry McGuigan and Padraig Harrington have, on those days of thunder when they touched the heavens, couriered an imperishable glow to our front-door.

For thousands on this island, Liverpool, Manchester United, Leeds or Celtic have the power to flick a switch that transports them to that pitch of emotional intensity where they feel most vibrantly alive.

There is one geographic coordination the virus cannot touch:  The fantasy island of our imagination.

There, we are forever impregnable. So, as the clock advances an hour this week, rewind a month, a year or a decade.  Reunited with a day when you walked on air.

My sanctuary is September 18, 2011, Stephen Cluxton kicking the free that broke Kerry and slipped his name through the mailbox of sporting legend.

Wherever your treasure lies, summon it, hug it and don’t let go. It is a lifebuoy keeping you afloat.

Telling the toxic, virus-infested waters that today you will not go under.