There are no excuses left, government must open up pitches and let sport return

It was frustrating enough seeing major events like the Kennedy Cup and Sciath na Scol called off but the needless shutdown of youth activity must end argues Éamonn Murphy
There are no excuses left, government must open up pitches and let sport return

Young St Michaels and Avondale United players, and siblings, Daisy, Rowan and Sam Allen get some sports training together at Tramore Valley in January. Picture: Larry Cummins

ONE of the bleakest sights since Christmas has been the locked pitches and hurling alleys.

Though I've never been a fan of sending young players onto heavy, wind- and rain-swept fields in January, as the weather has picked up running into the Easter holidays, the sporting shutdown has become increasingly grim.

That players are unable to access outdoor facilities to take a few shots, work on their touch and skill, or simply clear their heads, is infuriating. Without going down the route of whataboutery, and accepting that congregating in numbers is frowned upon, banning kids from pitches has been one of the daftest byproducts of the government's uninspiring Covid policy.

GAA players have been left in the dark in recent months. Picture: Pat Murphy/SPORTSFILE
GAA players have been left in the dark in recent months. Picture: Pat Murphy/SPORTSFILE

At least there are more youngsters out in estates and on their greens playing their own games and pucking around lately. We're constantly told, often in conjunction with a debate on the demise of the Irish soccer team at international level, that we don't produce enough 'street ballers' anymore. 

Granted, children aren't out and about to the same degree they were when I was a pup in the 1980s. Powering up a PS4 or an X-Box is certainly more appealing than an old-school Commodore 64 or a Spectrum. You don't get that screeching loading noise when the games loaded via tape. And there are epic open worlds offered online. 

But you still see plenty of boys and girls out organising soccer games or cycling, climbing and generally messing around, out my way. Sales of bikes were up last spring during the initial lockdown.

While Covid cases haven't dropped to the levels everyone hoped they would, it appears sport will get the go-ahead to return in April. There's a significant amount of lost time that needs to be made up.

Already since 2020, we've seen a host of competitions that genuinely matter to those involved in them wiped out, including the Kennedy and Gaynor Cups for teenage soccer players, Sciath na Scol, the Aldi Community Games, and more. 

Personally, the cancellation of the Paul O'Connor Memorial Hurling Blitz in the Gaelcholáiste Muire AG was hugely disappointing. It has been a wonderful celebration of the memory of the Na Piarsaigh, North Mon and UCC legend in recent years and huge fun for all the primary school players involved on the day. 

 The 2019 Paul O'Connor Memorial Hurling Blitz. Picture: Denis Minihane.
The 2019 Paul O'Connor Memorial Hurling Blitz. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Hopefully, when sport returns, it won't just be 'non-contact training'. That's the exact opposite of the games-based approach that kids badly need now. Fewer drills and fitness and a focus on matches would get players motoring again and also just enjoying themselves. 

We can accept formal competitions won't commence again, for now, but all evidence suggests there is no Covid spread on pitches. 

Internal matches are a lot more appealing for players than overly-structured training.

Indoor activities like basketball, boxing, darts, swimming and more have a bleak short-term future. We already had the bizarre situation last winter where basketball training, already shifted outdoors, could only be run with no sharing of the ball.

There's now a danger that the European Men's Basketball Championship for Small Nations, set for UL in late June and early July after being postponed last summer, won't take place in Ireland. The women's team are due to head to Cyprus.

Those elite basketballers have already lost a full year of their careers. Cruel to the extreme in sporting terms.

You can track these Covid closures via the TV cycles. We had the Normal People and The Last Dance phase 12 months ago and now it's Bridgerton and the return of Line of Duty

Hearthrob gear went from GAA shorts to Regency era shirts. Of course, having a genuine reason to wear either, be it a Mid Cork junior C football match or a dinner on the South Mall, would be great right now. 

At nearly 41 and lacking any natural ability, my time is up as a sluggish corner-back but I'm determined to pull on the Ballincollig geansaí at some stage this summer.

And whatever about this old-timer, the younger generations need to be back out playing. 

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