Billy Joe Padden
THIS was supposed to be a column reflecting back on Mayo’s crunch National League game with Galway. Instead we find ourselves in the midst of a national emergency.
As the current Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti said many years ago, and Jurgen Klopp repeated recently, ‘Football is the most important of all the non-important things’.
The events of the last week in Ireland is a reminder that sport in general, and the GAA, should be looked at in that regard as well.
If measures to stop sport being played — as much as we’ll miss it — saves one life or makes things easier for one family then, of course, everyone has to back that decision.
I think the GAA showed leadership last Thursday by reacting quickly to the Government’s decision to close schools. I think the decision to suspend all GAA games and club activities was the right one.
That was a really strong sign of leadership from the top of the organisation.
There may have been that initial feeling of disappointment when trainings or games were cancelled last week, but that would have faded away very quickly with the over-riding concern being for immediate family and friends.
I live in Northern Ireland and there’s quite a lot of confusion in terms of the message from the United Kingdom’s leadership at the moment and the appropriate decisions being made.
We all recognise that the decisions being made by the Irish Government over the last week, in terms of trying to contain the Coronavirus, will have a huge economic effect on the country.
A lot of people are going to have to deal with that over the coming weeks and months, but the Irish government have made the decision that the health of the nation is more important.
And I would agree with that.
I’m no expert by any means when it comes to studying infectious diseases or how best to deal with a pandemic, but the decision made by the GAA, and so many other sporting organisations last week was the right one, in my opinion.
No doubt that GAA at local level will show the same leadership now in their communities.
Everyone will be eager for the games to recommence when this crisis has passed, but we have to set those competitive instincts at local and county level aside for the time being.
This is a time for all of us involved in the GAA to act with a social responsibility, and ensure that clubs everywhere don’t do anything to increase the risk of transmission of the virus.
All activities of clubs have been ordered to be suspended, and that’s the way it has to be.
So many adults and children will miss the social, athletic and cultural aspects of the Association but we cannot let anything over-ride the need for people to keep their distance for the moment.
Simonstown Gaels in Meath is a good example, where they announced that a member tested positive for Covid-19 last week. That sort of action and communication needs to be replicated in clubs all across the country if the need arises.
We’re all obsessed with winning but the ethos of the GAA has always been about what the Association has done for the community back through the decades.
To feel part of a GAA club, and to have that support in hard times is what matters most of all.
That aspect of the GAA is what’s so important and integral to Irish society, and that spirit of volunteerism that makes the Association so special all across the country, is what will help so many people get through the next few months.
We must watch out for each other
THERE’S no doubt that players in county and club panels all across the country will miss the camaraderie and friendship of meeting up. That’s a huge part of playing sport at every level.
We all know people as well for whom the GAA — and going to matches — is a huge part of their social life. In fact, in many cases in rural Ireland it might be a person’s only social outlet — be they players or supporters — and it’s something that they need for their mental and physical health.
So it’s very important that GAA clubs stay in contact with all members over the coming weeks to ensure that they’re doing okay and keeping well. There was never more technology or ways to keep in contact with people without having to meet them face to face.
But at this stage it’s a measure we have to take; short-term pain for a much longer-term gain.
In terms of the inter-county fixtures calendar, you’d have to imagine that the rest of the National League will probably be scrapped and the GAA will look to put in measures to ensure that they can run off county and club championships when the worst of this crisis is over. Whenever that will be.
The only thing I can compare this sort of GAA shutdown to is the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001, but while brought so many things in the country to a halt it was nowhere near this kind of scale. This is so much more serious, and everyone will look back on these events in years to come as being a national emergency.
As Mayo people we have a large diaspora between England, America and all over the world. It’s at times like this you think of those people and hope for the best for them.
Naturally, people all over the world will be worried about their family back home and hoping that they can come through this crisis.