‘There may be no matches, but there is still sport’

By Oisin Langan, Account Director, Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

I think it’s fair to say we all miss it. The first weekend of the restrictions, I should have been in Ballybofey shouting into a microphone for BBC. On the Sunday morning I had planned on making the lesser known journey of a hurling fan from Donegal to Kilkenny to watch my beloved Waterford hurlers in the Allianz League Quarter Finals. Then on Monday I’d go back to my day job in Wilson Hartnell which in a different sense also sees me immersed in sport.

To go such a long distance for a match that won’t matter too much when Championship season comes around may sound ridiculous, but for many fans following their teams can seems ridiculous as for most of us our teams’ seasons end in disappointment! So why do we follow our teams and sport in general if constant success isn’t provided?

It’s because for most of us, sport isn’t the matches we watch or the team we follow, it is our entire lives. It’s about the journey, the relationships and the bonds it creates.

Over the coming months, live sport – for reasons of the greatest possible importance – is on an enforced break. It might seem strange to say but even though there are no games to watch we need sport now, more than ever. Even Morning Ireland agree. In the absence of live sport Morning Ireland, one of the most listened to and important radio shows in the country, announced that it would be stopping sports bulletins for the time being due to lack of news content. Yet in its place they have announced a series on Ireland’s greatest sporting moments that sees Darren Frehill ably trawling through the sporting archives pulling out the sporting moments we all remember and brought us together as a people and a nation.

In many ways whilst what happens on the pitch provides diversion, it is actually what happens off it that has always been more important, and our current crisis situation illustrates just that.

Whether it is at the elite level or the lowest form of Junior F, the happenings on the pitch are just ways of getting us together, but the deep-rooted relationships and friendships that are the heart of our sporting communities are constant.

In my day job I’ve recently worked with hurlers from Kilkenny’s Ballyhale Shamrocks and Tipperary’s Borrisilleigh. Both teams reached the AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Final earlier this year, bringing immense joy to their parishes in doing so. Their respective communities faced their own tragedies in recent years, and though the success and victory of the clubs on the playing field will never fill the void, the support their achievements provided to those who needed it offered a beacon of light in a time of darkness. They gathered together as communities working through the challenges that come with loss, and our country must mirror this togetherness now in our time of need.

We need a pleasant distraction, we need something to talk about. We need that sense of community and camaraderie that sport brings. Whilst circumstances dictate that we cannot get together in a literal sense, we can in metaphorical one.

It’s already happening. Des Cahill spoke on the Late Late Show of the importance of local clubs developing children’s skills and playing a key role in building relationships between adults on the sideline who come together at training. This can’t happen at the moment, but some caring coaches and players from across the sports community are releasing online sessions that families can do together. We’ve also seen a spate of online challenges pop up. Did I ever think I’d be so impressed about toilet roll keepy-ups or push challenges? No but we truly are living in strange times.

For those of us who have progressed through the development stages and now reside in the ranks of pub league football and Junior F hurling and shouting from the side, well there’s something for us too. Our teams may not be playing, and we may not be able to go out and support, but we can debate who our best players were, what our top memorable sporting moments are and (one of my personal favourites) our teams’ best ever jersey!

Sport is not just about matches, it’s about friendships and no matter what is going on those friendships will remain strong. When Cork City won the league, I celebrated with friends I made through supporting the club. On a side note, yes I am from county Waterford but support Cork City thanks one of the afore-mentioned friends who I met while living in Cork. When City went out of business our friendships didn’t dissolve. They rose again and Cork City triumphed again! Hard times have befallen us, but has that changed the friendships and sense of warmth I feel when I meet my Cork City supporting friends? No.

At the moment we all hope for a quick return to normality in sporting fields, but hope is not a new concept to anyone involved in sport. Every fan of every team can identify with a sense of hope that fuels their optimism. Never before has being hopeful and optimistic been so significant.

For now, matches may have stopped but sport has not. As long as we engage in a friendly chat with a friend, send a message into a team WhatsApp group asking if everyone is ok, and use social media in a positive way to facilitate an online conversation or place to watch old games, sport hasn’t stopped. In fact if all of what I have just mentioned is happening then it’s going stronger than ever.

Sooner or later live sport will be back and when it is we’ll rejoice and welcome it with open arms. It’s something that will prove to be the most important and least important aide in our recovery. As Second Captains jingle with Michael Parkinson says, ‘Sport is not war, or death, or famine – it’s not that at all. It’s the opposite of that. It’s to persuade us of a life outside of that… that’s why sport’s important.’

Matches can be re-arranged, and competitions delayed or if needed cancelled. It’s tough on players and teams but ultimately, they can get another shot. If anything the reaction of Team Ireland’s Olympians current and aspiring to the postponement of this summer’s Olympics proved just that. Another year to get stronger they said. Yet we only have one shot at taking on this pandemic and it is vital we do it right. We may need to keep our distance from each other literally, but it has never been so important for us to stick together.