In times of greatest strife, the greatest buffers against ill winds have always come via sport and farming. And, in the course of the one week lately, quantities of resilience were tested to the end of elastic point. Owing to a trying shift in personal circumstances and, equally as profoundly, the almost indescribable grief and sadness felt at the passing of a very dear friend, the late Peter A Ward (Aidan).
Though immensely difficult, focus had to be regained as I know it’s what Aidan would’ve wanted. It will come as little surprise either that the biggest cloak of solace which enabled navigation of trying times did manifest themselves through happenings in farming and – to a greater extent during the period concerned – sport.
Even if what did transpire across a few sporting codes led to altered perspectives on many fronts. They say a week is a long time in politics, well, in the early parts of the National Leagues in both football and hurling, a similar caveat should apply. Look no further than the outcomes of Meath’s opening two jousts in the Spring competition for evidence.
After annexation of the O’Byrne Cup and an impressive opening outing against Armagh, sights would justifiably have been set on promotion rather than survival. Now, while it would be a reaction of the extreme knee-jerk variety to assert that such aspirations are hereafter futile following the reversal against Fermanagh, the inescapable reality is that advancement now looks a decidedly more arduous task. Especially as it’s a good number of years since Div. 2 was such a minefield of competition.
Mind you, in other sporting spheres there has had to be an albeit slight recalibration of current standings. For all that it was obvious that life in the post Paul O’Connell era was going to take some adjusting to, Joe Schmidt would surely have been entitled to a smoother conveyance than has transpired. His squad having beset by the sort of injury crisis which puts claims relating to strength and depth to the test.
Draws in rugby might me as rare as a white Christmas nowadays, but, any realistic appraisal of Ireland’s opening day encounter with Wales would surely be inclined to conclude that a division of the spoils in that instance represented a positive outcome. Right, it could with credence be opined that, having gone 13-0 up, the home side should have kicked on and won.
However, some leeway must presumably be afforded given the depletion in availability of Schmidt’s first choice combatants, allied to the fact that there appears to be no diminishment whatsoever in the potency of Warren Gatland’s team. Thus, with Jonny Sexton again visibly ailing, that the luckless fly half was able to nail the kick which ensured parity at the end actually amounted to something of a triumph. There were other positives to take from the stalemate too.
The standout one being Stander, CJ that is. Even allowing for my fondness for rugby folk down south, I have yearned for the day that South African Munster man qualified to play for Ireland, and when the day dawned it certainly didn’t disappoint. The inspirational powerhouse was a deserving winner of Man Of The Match following his first occasion to belt out the national anthem!
Though he had to have been pushed close for the accolade by Meath’s Devin Toner. Naturally, much of the focus beforehand centred on how Ireland would cope in the area of the field that used to be O’Connell’s stomping ground. To my mind, the occurrence of the first such attempt happened to be Toner’s best display to date in an Irish jersey. In one sense, talk of replacing the red marauder is tantamount to folly. However, on most recent evidence, the Moynalvey man is on course to become the new leader of the line out.
Of course, the draw means there’ll be no Triple Crown or Grand Slam, but the capture of a third consecutive Championship would be momentous in itself. Thoughts now turn to racing where the top prizes are also beyond the reach of many due to the ceaseless dominance of Willie Mullins.
Exactly that was underlined still further over the course of one weekend when representatives of the Closutton handler that were deemed second or third string mop up big prizes. It’s not all about Mullins though. So it was heart warming beyond description to see establishments with which especial affinity is held – those of Jim Dreaper and Noel Meade – enjoy resurgences in form of late.
Bonny Kate looks a mare capable of winning more big prizes for Noel, while the sight of Jim having three winners in a week returned thoughts to days of yore and underlined that class is permanent. Seeing the colours of the Newell family from Dunshaughlin carried to victory by Mr Cosmopolitan was a triumph for persistence by the trainer and indeed his returning rider Jamie Flynn, while the victories of Cerca Trova will have carried particular poignancy at this time.
Both aforementioned trainers have been having commendable seasons in their own right and thus lifted certain spirits immeasurably.