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.
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.
I can’t understand how countries in level 5 #lockdown can have totally different rules esp. for sport. No kids games in Ir.! Yet, from dawn to dusk I see games & training non stop, by kids & adults in #Brussels , #soccer #basketball etc.Where is the science ? #NPHET @HSELive pic.twitter.com/tktLHY076X— Seán Kelly MEP (@SeanKellyMEP) March 28, 2021
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.
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.
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 theand phase 12 months ago and now it's and the return of .
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.
And whatever about this old-timer, the younger generations need to be back out playing.