Back in the game


BACK IN ACTION Ger Flanagan’s Balla GAA teammates in action during a challenge game at the weekend. The return to football action post Covid is evidenced by the individual water bottles for each player, one of the guidelines set for returning to action.

Returning to sport
Ger Flanagan

WALKING onto a football with the smell of freshly cut grass in the air is a strange pleasure that I only realised how much I actually missed over the past few weeks as the GAA pitches across the country opened for business.
It’s a shame that the baking sun we were blessed with during lockdown hasn’t hung around since the GAA Return to Play roadmap has unfolded but beggars can’t be choosers.
The return to play has meant that a minimum of three evenings a week are spent back at Nally Park doing those dreaded lung busting interval runs, tackle boxes, various shapes and sizes of endurance drills and that legal torture otherwise known as the yo-yo test.
But it’s all good and other than those few moments where your head is quite literally spinning and you’re seeing stars from the lack of oxygen in your body, this writer wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Even the tight hamstrings and the feeling like you’ve been hit by a bus the following morning after a hard session were missed.
Yet aside from all the actual football related activity that we were yearning for this summer, the return of the social side of the game – so often under-appreciated – has been dearly missed.
It’s hard to comprehend the simple pleasure of now being able to meet up with the lads a few times a week, having the craic before and after training, the brutal but beautiful slagging, the bollockings for a bad pass followed by the unwritten rule that what happens on the field stays there. Even the simple catch up conversations are enjoyable.
You’d miss the different shapes and sizes of characters on your team too.
Take for example Jack Harte emerging from lockdown with a mullet that would put any in 1980s icon to shame, or Podge McLoughlin who decided to grow out his hair and beard to raise money for the Western Care Association. It’s a sight to behold.
You’d even miss Shea Benson’s questionable excuses for missing training, or Gerry Murphy’s refereeing of in-house games.
The point is that the GAA provides so much more to a community than a ball being kicked around by 30 players on a field. When you take all the external benefits of that away like what happened in lockdown, you get a deeper sense an appreciation for our national sport.
Sure, life in the new normal for a GAA club is much different than what it is now. The sanitising, the online health checks, not having access to the dressing room. Plus there’s the elephant in the room that is the possibility of going back into another lockdown.
But the hunger for the sport right now is huge. Commitment from players and numbers at training are at an all-time high, and only last week a very healthy crowd turned out in the lashing rain and socially distanced themselves to watch our first challenge match post lockdown against Lahardane.
To be kind to ourselves and Lahardane, the football was rusty at best, but seeing the smiles and excitement on peoples faces afterwards, or being able to dissect the game in Roche’s Centra on the way home, was as normal as the world felt since last February.

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