Exactly two months and two days have gone by since Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made the decision to temporarily shut down all forms of sport across the country. Make no mistake about it, the absence of sport in Ireland has made life for Irish sport lovers particularly difficult throughout this lockdown period. Not only has the routine of meeting our friends at the pub to watch the game vanished temporarily, but the weekends now have this never-seen-before void.
As inhabitants of a sport-mad country, the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly made many people, myself included, appreciate the art of sport that extra little. Long gone (it seems at this stage) are the social get-togethers with your best mates to watch a Manchester United versus Liverpool rivalry burst into furious, raging, passionate life in a jam-packed, typically-Irish atmospheric pub.
Highlights are all well and good, but there comes a point when live action is deeply missed. No matter how enthralling the Rafael Nadal versus Roger Federer 2008 Wimbledon tennis final was, you simply can’t beat the thrill, excitement and beauty of unpredictable live sport.
In the majority of Irish households, a frustrated dad’s “ah, jaysus, the 2017 Waterford-Galway final repeat AGAIN” will be an all-too-frequently heard complaint by now. Although more than a handful of these said dads will be roaring and screaming nonetheless at the TV, highlights are only highlights at the end of the day. You know who will come out on top, as much as it pains you.
The weekend void
Saturday morning. Life, as it once was, would mean the following for a typically-sport-mad Irish enthusiast: excitedly buy the paper at the local shop or newsagents, stop to chat with and make predictions with your pals, go home and make the fry before plopping onto the couch for the day to tune into the day’s soccer, rugby, golf (whatever it may be) action. Times have changed, and now weekends must surely feel like every other day for sport lovers across the country.
The weekly grind, for Irish individuals with the “sport is life” mentality, now doesn’t have as great of a reward as it once had. Soccer Saturday with legendary English sports broadcaster Jeff Stelling cannot be enjoyed for hours upon hours on a Saturday mid-afternoon to late-night. Nor can The Sunday Game be put on during Nana and Grandad’s late Sunday afternoon visit for lunch.
Let’s not forget about the social aspect being affected here, too. Sport unifies people around the globe. In Ireland, it’s no different. In fact, sport and socialising in our Emerald Isle go together like ham and cheese in a sandwich. They just go hand in hand, simple as. With the closure of pubs set to last until the end of next month, Irish citizens will be forced to refrain themselves from the before much-cherished pint with a group of friends at the local while intensely watching an English rugby super league battle or a GAA hurling Tipperary versus Kilkenny rivalry showdown.
COVID-19: Restrictions to physical act of playing sport
Not only has watching sport been hugely missed, but so too has the physical act of practising it. And while golf and tennis regulars have received good news following the recent gradual reopening of clubs across the country, it will undoubtedly take some time for normality to be reached once more.
Although that newly incorporated 30-minute workout breaks up the somewhat monotonous routine of COVID-19 living, the actual physical act of playing a social but ever so slightly competitive match of tennis is unmatchable (excuse the pun).
For those tennis social regulars, five-a-side football fanatics, almost three whole months with this blatant absence has been quite tough, hasn’t it? Fear not people of the Irish land: the end is near. The wait shall not go on much longer.
No sport: The Irish household struggle
The two-and-a-half-month absence of sport in Ireland has no doubt been a significant struggle for parents across the country with young children. Tantrums each and every weekend after their consoling parents telling them that they’ll have to wait that little bit longer to see their friends on the hurling field. Worse still, that heartbreaking moment when your daughter or son gets up that extra tad early to get their GAA gear on only to find out that the COVID nightmare continues. Irish parents out there: we salute you!
Financially, of course, things are tight for most right now. With the majority of the Irish population having more than likely been laid off from work, luxury sports channels such as Sky Sports and BT Sport might be off limit. “B-b-but, RTÉ don’t show the football highlights”, will be the common objection from the teenage why-can’t-we-have-what-Seán’s-family-have offspring. Saorview, in my opinion, is a perfectly satisfactory service, but, it ain’t everyone’s cup of tea, especially when it comes to sport.
The long-awaited return
Following the announcement just over a week ago from Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, that “low-risk sporting activity” in Ireland would be given the go-ahead to restart with the aid of a Government-established ‘Return to Sport Expert Group’, the anticipation for the return of sport here at home has began to mount. June 8 will see the welcomed return of the SSE Airtricity League, while the latest whisperings from England indicate a June 26 English Premier League restart.
Although horse racing has been uninterrupted by the shattering COVID-19, life just isn’t quite, well, life, without some football in it. Sad it is that the 2020 Summer Tokyo Olympics fell victim to our world’s current woe, but, at least we’ll see the return of the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United. Two giants of world football that are always welcomed into any Irish home.
To sum up, whilst there has been a void particularly difficult to fill for many throughout Ireland due to the absence of sporting action in the country, we must remember that sport is not the be all and end all. Even the most enthusiastic of sport lovers in Ireland will have realised that perhaps we have taken sport, for all it is, for granted.