Return To Play

One year on from Covid-19 coming into our lives, the biggest thing that I miss is getting the opportunity to watch my kids play for their club.  I miss taking them across to the pitch to drop them off for training and then to pick them up again.  I miss the craic with other parents; the slagging and the emotions during their matches.  

It has become more and more difficult to cope with lockdown after lockdown and it’s our kids who are suffering the most.   They are missing out on their development, academically and socially.  They are missing out on their development to enhance their chances of becoming sports stars of the future and, as a parent, this is a real sore point for me.  Like all parents, I want my kids to have the best chance of doing well in school.  I want them to learn from their teachers in classrooms where they can interact with other kids, form friendships and have a clear and transparent route towards the best education possible.  This does not happen in the house, regardless of how many Zoom classes they partake in.  

Motivation is becoming more and more difficult the longer they are expected to stay at home.  While we did get back to some kind of normality towards the latter part of last year, and got the chance to attend games, wouldn’t it be great to return to that as soon as possible?  

Last night’s news by the NI Executive – subject to Executive ratification in early April – that sports training for affiliated clubs may be able to resume outdoors in groups of up to 15 people from Monday 12 April is a big step in the right direction.  Our communities rely heavily on our GAA clubs to provide that sense of belonging, to offer that opportunity for enjoyment in life and to bring one another together.  In normal circumstances, our club car park is jam-packed every night of the week, our fields are full of activities from training sessions to matches, and there is a vibrancy about the place.   We have not had that luxury in quite some time and the sooner we get back to it, the better.   

I’m no expert on this but there has got to be a safe way to manage activities that are taking place outdoors.   Outside in wide open spaces, where we have been led to believe from the outset, is a safe place to be.  And, why have elite players been allowed to participate in their sports, while the amateurs have not been afforded the opportunity to play their sport of choice?For me, this is hypocrisy.   In fact, in elite sport, there is more intense contact happening on the field of play than there would be in a club GAA match.  Look at rugby, for example, particularly when teams are scrummaging.  

I’m not taking anything away from any other sport. I’m all for all sports to be back participating; but if it’s a case of we are all in this together then that should mean that all sports, regardless of what level they are at, are all back together and this has not been the case.  Our schools, our GAA clubs and our games can and should return in a safe manner, which would give everyone in society a much-needed uplift in spirits.  In fact, this must be a priority going forward.   Other countries have successfully set out return to play roadmaps, especially for their kids, so while yesterday’s news is to be welcomed, why are we lagging behind in this department?  

I tested positive for Covid-19 over the New Year. I have also recently lost a close relative to Covid-19, and I know of others in my community who have unfortunately passed away because of it, so I’m not naïve enough to paper over the impact and the damaging legacy that it can leave with families.  Personally, it took me a while to get over the virus and, at the time, it knocked me for six with aches all over my body that I have never experienced before.  Taking the virus for granted now is not something that I would choose to do, nor did I before I tested positive for it.  

I would have a serious concern, though, about the long-term health and mental wellbeing of people.  The experts are saying that we are going to face a huge spike in mental illness across the island of Ireland, so the longer our governments refuse us the opportunity to get back to some level of normality then these figures will only continue to rise.  This has got to be a serious area for concern and it has to be addressed as soon as possible.  

Being closed for a sustained period of time has also put financial strains on our clubs and it has massively impacted their fundraising strategies.  As we all know, without fundraising events, a lot of our clubs would struggle to keep their gates open.  Club fundraisers can draw a large amount of attention towards a club and can raise a substantial amount of money, and that can only be done properly with the opening of our social clubs – the hub where committees come together to plan for these types of events.  

Many people have been wondering whether or not we will get the chance to see any gaelic games this year, particularly at club level.   We still don’t know what the answer to this is and the NI government ratification in early April of a return to training on April 12 will be eagerly-awaited.   As a club manager myself, I have been frustrated that I can’t get my team onto the training field to plan for the season ahead, wondering too if there is going to be one.   The players themselves are tormented because they have been keeping themselves fit and doing their own training with but with no clear start date.  Frustration will only start to grow more and more as the days go by.   The sooner we get back to enjoying our games again and affording our kids the opportunity of development the better for everyone.

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