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The days of running alone


John Gunnigan

HOW much our lives have changed and how rapidly.
Little over a week ago Mayo should have been playing Galway in what might have been a defining clash in a faltering League campaign for us.
We might have been whipped by them, our demotion from the top tier confirmed before we’d left Pearse Stadium. We might, perhaps less probably, have beaten them and then gone on to complete the great escape by getting the better of Tyrone seven days later.
But those two dates have now come and gone and not a ball has been kicked. Nor will one be any time soon, with this year’s League almost certain to be declared null and void, while an old-fashioned pre-qualifier variant of the Championship is possibly the best we can hope for of the summer to come.
Across the country and the wider world, the tapestry upon which great sporting contests are painted lies bare, as match after match is postponed, tournaments are mothballed and supporters’ thoughts are fixed instead on keeping the virus out of the house and keeping enough food and other essentials inside it.
At its best sport provides moments of pure theatre. But like the theatres, as well as the cinemas, the pubs and all the rest, sports grounds everywhere are closed and silent.
The more vainglorious politicians have taken to evoking metaphors of wartime to describe a global crisis that is, in living memory, unprecedented. This is no war, though, and those same politicians are anything but wartime leadership material.
It is, however, a pandemic and Covid-19 is an enemy of humankind that needs to be defeated. Which it will – by the ingenuity of scientific research rather than by bombs and guns – but, sadly, only after exacting a terrible toll in terms of human lives lost.
The coronavirus has also succeeded in doing something thought impossible in the modern era: it has focused all the world’s attention on one subject. That hasn’t happened since the advent of social media. It hasn’t, in truth, occurred for a generation, with 9/11 arguably the last such time when a single event shook the entire world.
We’ve much time to ponder as we live through these strange, unsettling days. I find myself sometimes thinking ahead, to that period when all this is over and we can undertake again what now seem like impossibly carefree pursuits. I miss all those things.
One of the pastimes I feel the loss of the most right now is my weekly Park Run on a Saturday morning. A global phenomenon – a benign one this time – this 5k run is hugely popular across Ireland. For the last 18 months or so I’ve been taking part in it, mostly at St Anne’s Park here in Dublin but also a few times in Claremorris, where there’s a cracking route in the amenity park that snakes around Clare Lake.
But these days I’m running alone. In one sense that’s okay – we’re not on lockdown yet so at least I can still get out and run. In any event, running is, at its essence, a private, individual kind of torture.
I do, though, find it an easier test and far more uplifting experience when I run as part of a large group. It’s a shared escapade, each of us part of something bigger. But like so many things, football included, that we value enjoying – or enduring - as part of a bigger group, it’s one that has to be forsworn for now.
But even running alone has its compensations. When I’m out in these pandemic days I find that, in that particular Irish country way, everyone up here  in the capital is now cheerily greeting everyone else they encounter. In our own different ways, we’re doing what we can to stick together through this.
To a large degree, we’re all country people now.

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