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Do the right thing to get us back to the thing we love

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Croke Park Stadium under lock and key following directives from the Irish Government and the Department of Health to the country’s sporting associations, including the GAA, to suspend all activity until March 29, in an effort to contain the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19. Photo by Sportsfile

Croke Park Stadium under lock and key following directives from the Irish Government and the Department of Health to the country’s sporting associations, including the GAA, to suspend all activity until March 29, in an effort to contain the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19. Photo by Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Croke Park Stadium under lock and key following directives from the Irish Government and the Department of Health to the country’s sporting associations, including the GAA, to suspend all activity until March 29, in an effort to contain the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19. Photo by Sportsfile

Of all the words being used to describe unfolding events this last week - and more especially any contemplation of the future - the one that comes most readily to mind is 'surreal'.

The unfolding crisis of the COVID-19 outbreak and the daily escalation of infections and, tragically, deaths are very real indeed, and if anyone says they aren't frightened of where this might all end up then they're either lying or stupid.

The surreal part of this whole crisis has been to bear witness to and be part of a huge shut-down of daily life, which really only properly came home to roost last Sunday with the closing of every public house in the country for at least the next two weeks. As one wag put in on Monday, you know how dangerous this virus is when it can close every pub in Ireland for a fortnight; only God could close the pubs before that, and that was just for one day a year on Good Friday.

While our heroic medics work tirelessly to help the sick and infected, all the rest of us can do is play our part, as individuals and as a society, to comply rigidly with the guidelines on sanitisation and social distancing and do what the experts tell us must be done. COVID-19 doesn't discriminate about who it infects; it doesn't recognise gender or race or age or nationality. It doesn't target one demographic more than another, and it doesn't give anyone a pass. If you're a living breathing human then you're fair game for it, and if you come into close contact with an infected person you are vulnerable to catching it. Hence the absolute need for social distancing and hand washing and self-isolation.

In light of some 140,000 people being out of work overnight with the closure of pubs, clubs and childcare facilities (and that number could double if and when more businesses are forced to close) it seems wrong or misplaced to bemoan the fact that sporting events have been postponed for the time being. In the wake of a growing death toll worldwide, as well as those job losses and people being discommoded in the most serious way, a few weeks without sport doesn't seem all that important; and it's not.

Yet, if we know anything about this epidemic - and we don't really know where it could take us all - it surely must be that the human race will outrun it and beat it, and life will return to some sort of normalcy, if, perhaps, not quite the way it was before all this kicked off. And part of that new normalcy will be a return to play, to sport and games, to the football fields and tennis courts and running lanes and swimming pools and snooker halls and martial arts gyms. It may be weeks, and it more than likely will be a couple of months, but the human body and the human spirit will conquer this coronavirus - and, yes, there will be a huge and tragic human cost - and sport and play will never seem so important as they will be when the time arrives.

For now it is hugely encouraging to see all sporting organisations and their individual members adhering to the social distancing policy, and to know that teams are staying apart and not collectively training. It can't be easy for teams at elite level, and there must be the temptation in some quarters to try to do something on a collective basis. That's human nature too. However, one only had to hear of those people over the weekend who continued to congregate in pubs and clubs and act recklessly, and also to see the reaction of the rest of society in their strong condemnation of that behaviour, to know that together, and only all together, will society beat this pandemic. And nowhere is that collegiality and group-think and strength of spirit more strong than in sport, even if we're talking about sports for individuals rather than teams.

We are, for now, at the mercy of COVID-19 and no one can be certain as to how long the worst of it will last or when things will start to get back to normal.

On an international level the European Soccer Championships, due to take place across Europe in June, have been postponed until 2021, while the Tokyo Olympics, set to begin on July 24, could be in real danger of not going ahead. Already the US Masters in golf next month has been called off, as has the Aintree Grand National.

Many other events and competitions, such as the myriad soccer leagues around Europe, including the concluding stages of the English Premier League, as well as the final stages of the Champions Cup in rugby will, at best, be severely impacted if they are to be completed, and, at worst, may have to be voided altogether.

Here in Kerry the GAA chairman Tim Murphy has been reasonable but realistic in his thoughts on what the next weeks and months might mean for clubs and players in the county. He's not being alarmist when Mr Murphy suggests that the club championships, which would be played out in April, are already at real risk of not going ahead this year.

No one needs telling how tight and crowded the GAA calendar, locally and nationally, is at the best of times: the likelihood of four to six lost weekends can only have a detrimental impact on fixtures and competitions for the rest of the year.

At a far less elite level, the simple matter of gyms and leisure centres and five-a-side pitches being closed and unavailable to the casual recreational sports person is, for now, an inconvenience that could get worse before it gets better. It goes without saying that open-air exercise is not only permissible but to be encouraged as people try to live with social distancing for the next few weeks.

As a Liverpool FC supporter I never bought into the old Bill Shankly line: "Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that."

It's a nice line, but even the great Shankly would have understood that sport is, after all, just that. It's a release from real life, a form of escapism. Sport is, of course, bound up in and tied in with family, friends, health. Without family to encourage us into sport in the first place, and without friends to participate in sport with and against, and without good health to be able to play and enjoy sport, then there is no sport.

The next few weeks are going to be hard: hard for those who love playing sport, hard for those who enjoy going to sports events or just watching it on television, and - yes - hard for us in the sports media to do our job. For now, the important thing is that everyone does the necessary to ensure as quick a return as possible to playing and watching and reporting on the things we love. In time we will have championships and leagues and tournament, but in the meantime your health is your wealth. Stay safe.

Kerryman