The Week in Sport: Damian Stack looks at some of the stories making backpage news over the past seven days
It's a very fine line we have to walk at the moment, as individuals and as a society. Understandably a lot of us are worn out, worn down more like, and frankly fed up of the whole thing. The last two and a bit months since Christmas have easily been the most difficult of the entire pandemic. We're left threadbare, cranky and frustrated.
It's only natural that we'd want to at least some easing of what have been some of the most stringent set of restrictions anywhere in the world. None of which is to say that we agree with the eejitry - and that's a very benign way of describing the crank and kook notions of some of the attendees at last weekend's anti-lockdown protest - we witnessed on the streets of the capital last weekend. Far from it. We really do have to acknowledge that NPHET know what they're talking about. When last we, as a nation, diverged from their advice it was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster, a blunder that made us the global poster child for what not to do.
We have to consider all of this when we begin to advocate for the easing of restrictions in this area or that. The GAA's cautious approach might not be to everyone's taste, but it's been the right one. All the same we were cheered when we read new GAA President Larry McCarthy's call for children to be allowed back on the playing fields in the not too distant future. Why? Well it passes one simple test - it's not a self interested position to take. Yes, it's advocacy on behalf of the Association's broader membership, but the GAA at a corporate level doesn't get anything out of it. It's about the well-being of some of the hardest hit people by the pandemic - the young.
That's why it's only right that the first thing to come back is schools, the kids need it, and that's why it would be right that the first reopening in Gaelic games would be for the young. With the all-important proviso that we're not an epidemiologist or a virologist, McCarthy's position that the reopening of sports for young people could happen in tandem with schools seems to make sense. If a classroom is safe then surely an outdoor setting for non-contact training ought to be too.
McCarthy's intervention in his first address as president showed that he's got his priorities right. A strong start.
There's no getting away from it. It's nauseating. The curl of a smile on his lips. The casual way he's holding the phone to his head. The gesture he makes to the person taking the picture, all the while sitting atop a dead horse. None of it looks good. It's about as damaging a frame of film as you could find for a person in Gordon Elliott's position. More than that it's damning and damaging for the reputation of the sports of Kings writ large.
It seems to breach the bond of trust the general public have with the sport. We trust that the people in the industry will behave in such a way towards these magnificent creatures as befits the esteem in which they're held. We trust that the thoroughbreds are treated as well as we're always told they are - better than a lot of people. With that goes an acceptance of what can be a sometimes dangerous and somewhat cruel sport for the animals themselves. The big problem racing now has is that the image of Elliott smirking atop Morgan, a Michael O'Leary owned seven-year-old gelding, cut directly against that. In the battle for hearts and minds this won't do the sport any favours whatsoever. Against that, we should say, that there's no evidence whatsoever that the horses in Elliott's charge are cared for anything other than to the highest possible standards (his success rate would suggest they're very well treated indeed).
It's important to note too that a still image doesn't necessarily tell the full story. At face value it looks as though Elliott is being incredibly disrespectful of the fallen steed, and to be fair answering the phone while remaining straddled is incredibly disrespectful, but perhaps there is a legitimate reason why he'd have had to climb on top Morgan in the first place. Maybe to put a harness around him to move him back to the yard? You might think that's giving Elliott too much of a benefit of the doubt, and maybe it is. The truth is, though, we really can't say what happened in the moments before or after the picture was snapped. Elliott's regret seems sincere and not just in a way that suggests regret for having gotten caught. Whatever sanction comes his way after the Irish Horse Racing Authority has competed its investigation, he'd be well-advised to take it on the chin and keep his head down, even if that means missing out on the Cheltenham Festival later this month.
Beyond that as long as this is shown to be a one-off incident, a momentary lapse of judgement, then we need to forgive if not ever forget. Every one of us is entitled to a second chance.
The Welsh have a way of just getting under our skin don't they? It's not a one way thing either. There's a sort of a mutual antipathy that can't be explained away by the fact the two nations are neighbours and rivals. No, there's definitely more to it than that. It's an animus born largely of misunderstanding. Incomprehension would probably be a better way of putting it. We look across the Irish Sea and wonder how the hell do they keep besting us, and they look back across and wonder where the hell we get these notions of grandeur.
A lot of it probably has to do with how well the Irish provinces have taken to the professional game. In the Celtic League / Pro 12 / Pro 14 era the Irish provinces have held the whip hand more often than not. Between Munster, Leinster and Ulster Irish sides have won the European Cup / Champions Cup seven times. The Welsh haven't won it once. In fact only one Welsh side has reached the final. The first one. A Welsh side hasn't been seen in the final since 1996. That's quarter of a century ago now.
With a record like that is it any wonder Irish sides travel to Cardiff with a little bit of a swagger? Used to besting them in nearly every other arena, why wouldn't Irish fans (and subconsciously even players) expect to win? Maybe there's even a little bit of that attitude that trips us up, because, for all that club success, when it comes down to it, the Welsh are the superior rugby nation. They do better at what we aspire to do ourselves - punch above our weight.
Pound for pound the Welsh have to be the most successful rugby nation on the planet. According to World Rugby statistics, the Welsh only have the 12th highest number of registered players with around 20,000 fewer than Ireland. Even accounting for a pretty successful decade or so more recently, Ireland's record in the Six Nations pales in comparison to theirs. The less said about how Ireland's World Cup record stacks up the better.
The Welsh have this amazing ability to pull together with one goal in mind. Fair enough you might say they've been a little bit lucky so far this year. Peter O'Mahony's red card likely cost Ireland a win in Cardiff and, yet, can you honestly say that Ireland would have been able to do what Wales have done in this year's championship had the tables been turned? Even on the weekend with a pair of dubious tries to bolster them, they found the inner strength to resist Albion's backlash. The Welsh might be an uncomfortable mirror for us to gaze into, but they've damned impressive. In fact they're what rugby is all about.