Sport and GAA can help heal Irish society hopes Crossmaglen ace Aaron Kernan
CROSSMAGLEN star Aaron Kernan believes sport and the GAA “will have a massive part to play” in the recovery of Irish society once the country eventually comes out on the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ulster Council secretary Brian McAvoy admitted earlier this week that the provincial and All-Ireland Club championship competitions faced the “gravest risk” of being cancelled this year, suggesting any small window for on-field action may mean that only county championships and then the All-Ireland SFC and SHC (which would run parallel) would take place.
Having lifted the Seamus Mac Ferran Cup 11 times and been crowned kings of Ireland on six ovccasions, Cross are the most decorated club in Ulster. As with so many communities across the country, football has always been right at its heart.
However, adding to that haul of trophies - or defending the county title they won last October - is the furthest thing from the minds of those in the south Armagh village at the minute.
“The number one thing is the health of so many people in our nation,” said Kernan.
“It’s only really now we appreciate how massive sport is in our lives; it just feels like a gaping hole. Getting sport back up and going will help massively with the health and wellbeing of us all, not just for us getting out to play but for the older generations and giving them something to do and something to go and look at.
“I remember Tony McEntee telling us when we were preparing for an Ulster Club final - ‘old people hate winter, it depresses them. We shorten their winters, we give them hope and something to look forward to’.
“You were playing fortnightly in an Ulster Club campaign and that’s what they were looking forward to; the stories around town, who’s playing well, who’s injured, who’s back… that really brought home the importance football has for everybody.
“Wen the time is right, sport will have a massive part to play in the recovery of the country – not just from an economic perspective, but socially and in terms of physical health and wellbeing.”
Whether it returns this year at either club or county level remains to be seen, with GAA president John Horan rubbishing weekend reports that the Irish government was considering ways to facilitate inter-county sides returning to training in the summer.
Ex-Armagh ace Kernan, whose older brother Stephen was named Crossmaglen manager earlier this year, would love nothing more than to be lining out in those famous black and amber stripes – but knows a dose of reality is required across the board.
“As much as I love playing sport, I fully understand the repercussions of meeting up in groups and then getting back out into society where you might come across somebody who is vulnerable.
“The difficult part is the not knowing – when is this going to be over? When is normality going to resume? What will normality look like? As humans, we don’t deal well with not knowing.
“Our club gates have been padlocked since before St Patrick’s weekend, and I don’t think I’ve ever been away from our clubhouse the length of time that I am at the moment. It’s eerie, even just driving around the town.
“My gut feeling would be that if anything does happen, it’s going to have to be club before county – unless county is behind closed doors. Even if it meant playing half the league games and then the championship, we’d bite your hand off for it at this stage.
“Just to get communities back together and bring back some sense of normality would be great. Obviously there’s going to be changes in how the season is played out, but if we could get something, anything, we’d all be delighted.”