A week out from Irish rugby’s big return, and just as we were daring to look to the future with some semblance of positivity, a first Covid-19 case has brought everyone crashing back to reality once again.
The last couple of weeks have been dominated by talk of meat factories and clusters, but news of one of Munster’s academy players testing positive is another sobering reminder that everyone in society is at risk of contracting the virus.
Sport has a habit of wrapping us in a safe cocoon, and within that bubble, people often view players as some sort of superhumans who are immune to life’s daily pressures.
By now, no one should need to be told that coronavirus doesn’t decide to steer clear of fit and healthy people, but even still, the fact that Irish rugby’s first positive case has struck such a young player must not be glossed over.
Neither should the fact that Munster were immediately up front and public about the situation.
As is correct, the player’s identity will remain private to those on the outside, and if society wants to encourage people to speak up about their symptoms, then this individual should be commended for doing so as early as last Sunday.
Professional sport is dominated by a culture in which players hide injuries for fear of losing their place in the team, or worse, their contract.
This young Munster player was handed a golden opportunity to impress the senior coaches, so the easy thing to do would have been to stay quiet, which would have been a disaster.
As has been the case throughout this pandemic, early detection is key, and although it is alarming to hear that five of the player’s academy teammates, as well as a senior player, have now also had to self-isolate having been identified as potential close contacts, the swiftness of the response may mean that the show goes on at the Aviva Stadium next weekend.
Up until Thursday, Irish rugby had been ticking along nicely with over 600 tests all yielding negative results.
However, you always got the sense that it was only a matter of time before that changed, and similarly, this may not be the last positive case.
Privately at least, all four provinces will have been preparing for this eventuality, which again highlights the precarious nature of every sport in the country.
The GAA has already suffered with the Clare hurling championship being delayed after several members of the Cratloe team tested positive.
The recent increase of Covid cases in the likes of Limerick and Tipperary meant that for all the Munster squad have locked themselves away in their ultra-sanitised High Performance Centre, the virus remains prevalent outside of their own four walls.
Munster took the decision to cancel Thursday's senior and academy training, but the squad are due to return on Monday.
Had this situation arisen in the early weeks of pre-season, it would have been less of an issue in that players were only permitted to train in small groups.
As it is, those numbers have significantly increased to the point where it is almost business as usual, which means that more players were potentially at risk.
Again, it should be highlighted that the academy player who tested positive immediately self-isolated and even though he is reported to be doing well, he has not been in the Limerick-based high performance centre all week.
Thankfully, Munster’s head of medical Dr Jamie Kearns has also said that the HSE have confirmed that the training group are not considered to be close contacts.
Munster will now move into next week’s game week hoping they can continue their preparations for the meeting with Leinster Saturday week.
Before they do so, the entire squad and backroom staff will undergo the third phase of the IRFU’s testing – the results of which will again be released publicly.
The IRFU are understood to be quietly confident that next week’s game will go ahead as planned, but there is no doubt that this latest development has thrown a major spanner in the works.
Any player who was harbouring doubts about returning to action may be rethinking the risks to himself, or perhaps his family.
That’s the reality facing every sports player right now, as the recent positive tests in the GAA and soccer have highlighted.
Next weekend’s games at the Aviva may well go ahead behind closed doors, and while live rugby on our television screens will very much be welcomed, there is a lingering sense that sport and society are a long way from returning to what they once were.