SPORT'S importance to our society, culture, and the general fabric of our communities was evident again last weekend in the shadow of the tragedy that struck the communities of Castlerea and Charlestown in the west of Ireland.
The benefit that sport has on its participants is obvious, on a physical and mental health level. Not to mind the advantages it offers society at a well-being and monetary level.
The Covid-19 lockdown demonstrated to us, that a world without sport to even observe and follow is a far greyer place and shows that even for those of us that don’t actively partake in a sport, that so much of our lives, our character, and our leisure time is tied-up with the sport, the stars, and club that we follow.
It shows the desire society had to get sports back on the road, that long before we considered schools and offices coming out of lockdown we had the roadmap and groundwork laid out to get our sportsmen and women back on to the playing fields.
As Liverpool boss, Jurgen Klopp pointed out early in the pandemic that, "Sport is the most important of the least important things."
So, in lieu of competitive play, sporting personalities directed themselves to constructive pursuits of keep fit, mental health, charity challenges and community assistance videos online. And, as the extent and seriousness of the pandemic became clear, clubs and athletes joined the swell of greater society to lend a hand to those struggling to make it through the pandemic. In this jurisdiction, the GAA deserves great credit for stepping up and lending assistance, physically and financially, to those around their them who required help.
Over in England, as we discussed last week, Man United’s Marcus Rashford actively campaigned for the British government to provide school dinners to children in need into the summer months forcing Boris Johnson’s administration into an embarrassing u-turn and a commitment to not leave any child go hungry just because it is summer.
In the US, American football quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s ‘take a knee’ protest was subsumed by the Black Lives Matter protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. In the resulting fractious environment, the lines between sport and society blurred further. Even to the point of the once unthinkable development of NASCAR racing banning confederate flags, once a trademark of the sport, from within the confines of their stadiums.
Back in Ireland the callous and brutal murder Detective Garda Colm Horkan in Castlerea shocked the entire country and drew sympathy from all corners of Irish society. But, as is so often the case with tragedies down through the years, much of the community’s hurt was expressed through the GAA club Garda Horkan was so closely aligned with throughout his young life.
Like most Mayo men, Horkan's love of football was at the very core of his existence and he played it with his hometown side, Sarsfields, in Charlestown as well as with the Mayo U21s as a young man.
It was during his playing days that he earned the nickname ‘The Bear’ from his teammates, which followed him into his later career in the gardaí. And it would be his brothers in the green and white of Sarsfields, along with his brothers in the force, that would walk the final journey with their fallen clubman to his everlasting resting place.
It is so often the case that the local club will lead the journey home for the deceased, offering the support and camaraderie to the family that can only be achieved by an organisation in the shape of the GAA.
Det Gda Horkan had another love when it came to sport and that was Liverpool FC. And it was entirely appropriate that the club's song and motto of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' would be mentioned from the pulpit at his funeral. It is a unique song that strongly resonates when sung in triumph or as in this case, tragedy. And it epitomises sports relationship with so many of us, following us along our journey from the cradle to the grave.