The sun shone approvingly on Dublin's O'Toole Park yesterday afternoon as the hurlers of Faughs and St Jude's met in the senior championship, a reawakening of club competition in the capital after the four-month lockdown. A small privileged group of supporters, fortunate to possess one of the few tickets in circulation, watched a lively contest that ended in a dramatic draw.
Faughs is 135-years-old; St Jude's came along in 1978. And they live cheek-by-jowl on the outskirts of Dublin. Even though Faughs has an unrivalled record in Dublin club hurling, with 31 senior titles, it is not the force of old. The last triumph was back in 1999 and in recent years Jude's has come close to winning a first, losing successive county finals. They were favourites for this but in the end had to rely on Danny Sutcliffe to rescue a point after a late Chris Bennett goal looked to have created an upset.
The presence of senior county board officials marked the occasion as something out of the ordinary. The gate man, who remained on duty for the match between Craobh Chiaráin and newly-promoted Scoil Uí Chonaill later in the day, said the all-ticket policy had made his life easier. No ticket meant no entry and no arguments.
After hands were sanitised, and designated routes followed, it was time to savour the simple narcotic of a hurling match on a fine day. With no ball pucked in anger for four months, the appetite was as keen outside the white lines as inside. Faughs arrived early, Jude's waiting until a half hour before the appointed time.
The groundsman Noel Brady had the pitch in immaculate condition.
"It's a day that we didn't think would arrive, when you think back to March and April when there was the possibility of nothing happening," said Mick Seavers, the county board chairman. "And here we are, it's great, the sun shining and another match here this evening. And games going on all over the county.
"Being the first one we have a few members of the committee here, just to see how it goes, to see if we can improve things. We have another two rounds of hurling and three rounds of football and then into the latter stages."
The Government decision to delay Phase 4 of the roadmap, and maintain the crowd limit to 200 at GAA matches until August 10, came as a big blow to clubs. Concerns around crowd control and stewarding will remain for a few more weeks at least.
On the corporation pitches and parks where some senior teams are playing this weekend there really is no easy way of policing a crowd. And even in O'Toole Park, an old county ground with turnstiles and perimeter walls, there is a right of way for pitch and putt players, who could be seen exiting through the main gates before the hurling match from the course which adjoins the venue.
Relaxing the restrictions on streaming matches has offered some relief. "That was agreed yesterday which is a good thing," said Seavers, "we can get the matches out to the public. And I think a lot of people may not go out of concern for themselves and their families. Our competitions run to early November and then we've the county - whether we are playing on snowboards by then, I don't know."
John Costello, CEO of Dublin County Board, admitted that it had been a hefty challenge for clubs to adhere to the crowd protocols.
"The overwhelming sense is one of relief and joy for supporters coming into the ground today," he said around 20 minutes after arriving in O'Toole Park. "The GAA in Dublin has responded to the challenges posed by Covid-19, initially by responding to people in their communities who were vulnerable. Now it is time to get back to action. The general sense among people is that they are delighted to be back."
Even the result - a 1-18 each draw - made sure nobody went home unhappy.
Sunday Indo Sport
Not long ago I was in the hawks' camp in wanting to get our games going quicker. When it came to easing restrictions the GAA were behind the curve as the leadership took a conservative route. There was nothing necessarily wrong with that approach either.
The respected Belfast-based physiotherapist Shea McAleer tweeted last week: "Does anyone know where I can enroll on a cure/faith healer course? This is quite popular currently among GAA club managers. A client with a G2 ankle syndesmosis went for 'a cure of the sprain' with a healer which didn't end well. 'Cure of the hamstring' seems popular too."