Eureka – at long last we have caught sight of light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel.
Tomorrow the country takes a huge step on the journey back to normality.
A virus which none of us had heard about until a few months ago brought all our lives to a shuddering halt. We learned a lot along the way.
The report card on the government’s handling of the crisis is mixed. It acted decisively at the outset but made some terrible blunders along the way.
The neglect of our most vulnerable citizens in nursing homes, the treatment of those in direct provision and the pot of gold handed to the owners of private hospitals as well as to the Citywest Hotel are a stain on its handling of the pandemic.
And, more recently, its pronouncements on the reopening of schools, bars and restaurants have been less than assured.
But the virus has given us a chance to reassess our values.
We now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebalance society. We can take back control of our lives from the bluffers, spoofers, bloggers, influencers and performance coaches, who were hell-bent on dictating how we should live.
So, too, my beloved GAA: a line from a Joni Mitchell song sums up my feeling perfectly.
‘Don’t it always seem to go, That you don’t know what you’ve got, ‘Til it’s gone.’
I’ve missed every facet of GAA life over the last four months: the matches, the crowds, the craic, the highs, the lows and the Sunday Game.
The GAA is my drug of choice. It is part of my DNA. It’s what gives me my high. But it’s the live action I crave.
Watching old classic matches – even those involving Kerry – simply didn’t float my boat.
Now that the playing fields are open again, I’m looking forward to seeing our best players in action again.
During my days as a geography teacher I taught the students about soil creep – the slow, downward progression of rock and soil down a low grade slope.
For most of the Covid-19 pandemic the GAA engaged in its version of ‘soil creep’.
Think about it – at the beginning of May, president John Horan announced that as long as there was social distancing there would be no games.
Meanwhile, a fifth of the inter-county players who responded to a GPA survey said they wouldn’t return to play, unless a vaccine was found.
As I pointed out previously, had these arguments being taken to their logical conclusion we might never have seen Gaelic Games played again.
Thankfully common sense has prevailed. The GAA have accepted the new normal, which involves balancing risk with reward.
Belatedly, they have put the foot to the accelerator and sped things up. Clearly, however, we still have to proceed with a certain degree of caution.
There is a lot to admire in the GAA’s response last weekend to the Government’s decision to speed up the country’s exit from the lockdown
The FAI are fluting around, trying to come up with a financial package to enable the League of Ireland to restart and the IRFU are deadlocked with players about a wage cut.
Meanwhile, the GAA will be the first of the large sporting organisations in Ireland to restart its games programme.
Adult clubs returned to training last Wednesday, full-contact training and challenge games are being allowed from tomorrow, and two extra weeks have been added to the club fixture window – which now runs from July 17th to October 11th.
What’s progressive about the plan is that the grass roots, the clubs, have been given priority.
It would be even better if all the County Boards followed the example set by Derry and come up with an innovative plan to run their club championship programme.
Derry even got their football manager Rory Gallagher on board.
He was quoted as saying that the best preparation for county football is for the players to be involved in competitive club matches.
Realistically, the Derry template won’t be copied by many counties.
There are still plenty of roadblocks to be negotiated in the months ahead.
The GAA is a 32-county organisation but six Ulster counties operate under a different political jurisdiction – which has the potential to cause problems.
At the moment the Republic has a different timetable compared to Northern Ireland, in terms of when field games are allowed again. However, this issue may be resolved in the coming week.
But, by far, the biggest source of conflict will be the all-too-familiar clash between competing demands of club and county.
This will raise its ugly head very quickly as club and county teams are following different training regimes.
County players will be in pre-season training mode which entails a lot of stamina work.
Whereas at club level players will be expected to be at their sharpest with championship action about to recommence.
What clubs want to know is whether their county players can train with them.
But frankly I doubt if this will happen.
For years now county team managements have used a very simple ploy to enable their players to
by-pass club training.
They simply blame their medical team who decree that Player A has a soft-tissue injury and Player B is fatigued – so both are not medically fit to train with their clubs.
It will be no different this year. County players may attend club training sessions – but very few of them will actually train.
Such is the veil of secrecy thrown around county panels these days that the club won’t find out until weeks later that their ‘medically unfit players’ had actually featured in a behind-closed-doors challenge match the night before they were due to train with the club.
At a video conference call between County Board officials and club officials in one county last week the chairman categorically assured the clubs that they will have their county players for training at least once a week.
I wouldn’t hold my breath on even that limited promise being adhered to.