When you need a map back to your comfort zone

So, here we are. Back where we started. Just when a veneer of what used to pass for normality was at least partially re-appearing on the horizon. All because some genius decided to re-open the schools even though it was as obvious as the nose on your face that things were going to spiral out of control once kids and/teenagers were among each other in vast numbers again.

But then, this is Ireland. Rather than seeing and going by what is a perfectly acceptable reasoning as to why numbers have spiked, the GAA has been saddled with a disproportionate amount of the blame. Now, don’t get me wrong, what went on in and around some of the county finals wasn’t right. Indeed, if the Meath Co Board could be said to have made one error regarding their staging of the county’s football showpiece, it may have been more prudent to keep what is a dilapidated, outdated stand and instead put whatever spectators were in attendance on the terrace where it would actually have been easier to social distance people.

However, even allowing for that fact, there are three major factors which surely must be kept in mind at this time – (a) The role GAA clubs have played and are continuing to play in maintaining some form of quality of life for their communities, (b) the Association can hardly be held responsible for what supporters thereof do if/when they aren’t on GAA property and (c) If anything, the organisation jumped the gun by suspending all club activity before the ‘Government’ announcement on restrictions.

Tunnel Vision: G.A.A. President John Horan either cannot or simply doesn’t want to see the bigger picture

Repetition is one of the great foibles of this profession, but, if a story or viewpoint retains relevance then it is worth trotting out again. In this instance, I maintain that there was and is absolutely no need for an inter county championship to take place at all this year. Far better would it have been to let club activity go ahead – albeit behind closed doors – rather than going with what will ensure the suits get their millions.

Anyway, those who have been visiting this webspace for long enough will know that what can often be chronic insomnia is one of the most unpalatable side effects of my circumstances. That said, what amounts to a re-ignition of my interest in Basketball in the last decade or so acted as ‘company’ when awake and generator of writing material. Both therapy in their own way.

My guess is that the following can be traced back to the fact that the two sports which have been so much more than forms of entertainment for the occupant of this seat – GAA and Horse Racing – became off limits that what has morphed into at least a partial disinterest in sporting matters in general took hold.

It was, of course, around the same time that my interest in vegetable farming, Project Calfshed Inn and exploring other avenues began to germinate. Despite what some paranoid, possibly envious individuals might like to think, one of the said situations DID NOT accentuate the other. In fact, the dream scenario would be for both facets of life to ride shotgun to each other.

That said, encountering one article in one of the major newspapers recently – extolling the virtues of LeBron James, something this corner regularly engages in – was, in fact, a bit of a kick in the guts when it was realised that virtually the entire NBA campaign since action resumed Stateside had passed me by.

LeBron James is on a par with Cristiano Ronaldo

Again, anybody who has been ingesting my output for long enough will that my love of the 5-a-side action on the hard court goes back a long, long way. To the time, in fact, when the National Cup was such a big deal that RTE used to broadcast the whole of Finals Weekend live. Firstly from Neptune Stadium in Cork and thereafter, the National Arena in Tallaght.

Sadly, the National doesn’t appear to command anywhere near the coverage now that it did once. Thankfully from a personal perspective, my love of the sport was fostered somewhat again when my favourite teacher in secondary school, Seamus O’Reilly, appointed me Asst. Coach of the school team with him.

Then, in a situation that somewhat mirrors my love affair with and passion for farming, circumstance pulled me away from basketball before the expansion in the number of sports television stations available put not only the NBA itself but also the fervently competitive manicly followed colleges scene only the push of a button away.

Many’s the time in recent years has the Sky box been literally full to capacity between the two different grades of basketball. However, such is the pace with which the fixtures keep coming and the picture continues to evolve, I find that unless you’ve the seasons block booked on the Sky planner, it turns into an unending, unwinnable race. Believe me, I’m speaking from experience!

Which is why, even though my fellow basketball observer Joe McWeeney had given me plenty of notice as to when things were re-starting, once the tip-off (the equivalent of the throw-in) was missed, it put the pin in the baloon as regards the rest of the season for me.

Being honest, given the malaise the whole Covid-19 mess drove my emotional state into, large parts of the sporting world in general passed me by. Simply as lots of sport being on, yet not being able to attend any thereof is akin to yours truly rolling into a Chinese take away to be told one wasn’t allowed order curry.

Now, in case anybody thinks there were external forces at play at least attempting to lure me away from sport, a similar heartbreaking apathy has also corroded my interest in and passion for farming. Granted in that case there were extenuating circumstances outside of my control but they, in fact, only accentuated the sense of upset felt at being cut adrift from that which has been held so dear for so long.

Something driven home when for the first time in so long I’d be nearly embarrassed to say, I was possessed of the physical and/or emotional strength to read the sports supplement of one of the Sunday papers. Or to be accurate, a couple of different issues thereof a few weeks after they were ‘fresh’ because for far too long there would not have been an actual morsel of interest in what would be contained therein.

That is not to say, by any means, that I am anywhere near where I would want to be, regrettably, but, that occasion on which a look was taken at what it said in the papers, a piece was encountered which both caused a deep level of upset but, at the same time, lit a flicker of inclination strong enough to at least tempt a soul to almost take an injection of interest in some of what was contained therein.

A development which on the one hand put a five gallon drum of salt on the wound that was feeling totally removed from the basketball scene but at the same time planted an inner conviction that such a situation would never be allowed to develop again. For you see, the aforementioned sporting discipline wasn’t the only one to be afflicted with such uncharacteristic indifference.

Only after perusing Eamonn Sweeney’s piece about LeBron and his annexation of another Championship ring was it discovered that the World Grand Prix (won by Gerwyn Price) in Darts was also on while around the same time Rafa Nadal was adding to his already astounding record in the French Open in Tennis. In so doing, bringing himself level with his great rival Roger Federer in accumulating 20 Grand Slam titles.

In truth though, it was the basketball angle which prompted reflection on just how much of the world, sporting and otherwise, has been passing me by. What a horrible, sinking, lonely feeling that was and how the slide needed to be arrested before it morphed into a hurricane which no flood defences would keep out. Mind you what it also did was left me requiring a map back to my comfort zone. Core reasons for which were outlined above.

Anyhow, it’s probable that LBJ is like some other supremely talented sports people when it comes to public opinion and discourse – a case of a people divided. Perhaps not for the same reasons as some of the others who often crop up here for that same reason.

While LeBron’s acumen at and standing in his chosen sport are beyond repproach, there are those who would insinuate that the No. 23 repeatedly relocates for monetary reasons primarily. This corner could or would not subscribe to such a theory. For a few reasons. Firstly, he surely has his dollars well and truly made at this stage. Secondly, as there appear to be other simplistic explanations for each of his tranfers.

Firstly, when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers first time around, the latter named were, with respect, not in the same class as the Miami Heat outfit to whom he moved. Remember, at that stage, Erik Spoelstra’s side could also call on Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh and Chris ‘Birdman’ Anderson, which made them the Galacticos of their sport at that time.

Having won two titles with the Florida outfit, James kept what was seemingly a promise to the Ohioans when returning to the Cavs and driving them to outright glory. Aided and abetted by Anderson, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, before surprisingly, to me at least, upping sticks again and heading for L. A. – to join the Lakers rather than the Clippers.

Which, to anyone who has been even loosely tuned into the NBA in recent years may have looked a strange call as the fortunes and allure of the franchise had nosedived in a manner commensurate with those of Mamchester United.

However, unlike the inept Ed Woodward, Lakers owners the Buss family weren’t asleep at the wheel and set about recruiting some of the best talent in the NBA, highlighted, obviously, by James, but also the acquisition of Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans and the emergence of the likes of Kyle Kuzma.

Kyle Kuzma is one of the best young talents in the NBA

Attempts by sceptics to pass off LeBron’s motivations are easily enough deconstructed as outlined above. Maybe the following is simply down to sporting romanticism on my part, but, I can’t help wondering was there a poignant layer to his decision to relocate to California. During the time when the NBA Finals were ongoing, an article was encountered somewhere which likened James to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Of course, that comparison could be constructed from many angles. In the case in point, the focus was on how both men use their stardom to give back to others. Which is why part of me wondered was LBJ’s decision to take to the Lakers in some ways at least in tribute to Kobe Bryant who, along with his daughter, was tragically killed in a plane crash.

Kobe Bryant (1978-2020)

Obviously, the pair would have been well used to lining up against each other, but, even among the most bitter rivals – and there was no suggestion that such was the case in this instance – there is generally what may even amount to only a grudging respect. Though as could be clearly seen by James’s demeanor and actions after the Californians had clinched the crown, his tribute to his fallen comrade was utmost in its genune nature.

Whatever about LeBron having similar status to Ronaldo in certain ways, your bet would be fairly safe if you wagered the James and Bryant had simlary transformative effects on their sport as had the Portuguese and his Argentine adversary on world football.

From a spectating perspective, it has been beyond a pleasure to enjoy the two of them entrancing the football world. Just as it has similarly been with LeBron and the late Kobe did in the land of fast-paced five-a-side fare. You know, if 2020 has taught is anything, it’s surely to take nothing or nobody for granted.

So, whether it’s buying cattle or watching someone making hay or at the harvest, or taking in whatever activity – sporting or otherwise – that takes you to your comfort zone, do it, watch it, enjoy it and record it. You never know when it or those doing it won’t be there anymore.

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