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John Horan, speaking on The Sunday Game last night.
# On the box
TV Wrap - Horan and the GAA show impressive leadership as a diminished Sunday Game returns
The GAA president delivered a socially-distant punch to the gut, as the reality of a lost GAA summer sank in.

THE FIRST SUNDAY Game of the year, around which we usually gather to rev the engines of our weathered but roadworthy grievances.

The show is a reliable festival of viewer complaint, be it about the chat’s length, the chat’s content or the action’s length and content, which usually elevates the wrong sport and gives undue attention to a county over the so-called weaker one. 

Everyone brought their own, bespoke moan to the Sunday Game, but all were delivered with the hardheaded, lunatic conviction of the first soldier leaping over the trenches.

But this is now all of a previous age.

As Covid-19 remaps our lives, the first 2020 edition of The Sunday Game was met last night with mild unease and extreme uncertainty.

It opened with Des Cahill facing GAA President John Horan in an interview recorded two days earlier, on a spaceship.

RTÉ Sport / YouTube

What followed was the world’s first socially distant punch to the gut.

“Will Gaelic games be played at any level while there is social distancing in place?” asked Des.

“I can’t see it happening, to be honest. If social distancing is a priority to deal with this pandemic, I don’t know how we can play a contact sport.”

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Horan was here to deliver bad news, but he delivered it well: the government’s roadmap for the return of sport had bred some optimism but more confusion, and here Horan quenched them both.

We may get a championship beginning in October, but given the government have told us social distancing will be with us for some time, that looks mightily unlikely from here.

Players wouldn’t be allowed to congregate in groups of four either, said Horan, as expecting these meetings to be policed by volunteers would be to lumber them with an outsized burden.

He was open, too, about the crater about to be blown in the GAA’s finances. “Throughout the organisation taking into account county boards and clubs, the loss for the year is probably in the region of €50m.”

It was an impressive show of leadership and clarity from Horan and the GAA that was made all the starker by the communicative omnishambles that unfolded across the Irish Sea a couple of hours earlier, as the UK government continued their decade-long policy of governing in abstract noun.

(Add “Stay Alert” to “War on Terror”, “Take back Control” and “Get Brexit Done.”)

Sadly, there is nothing abstract about our summer void.

The GAA summer is a culture made of a thousand small and accumulating tangibles: of soggy sandwiches wrapped in foil and leaking heads wrapped in white bandage; of sombreros, arched programmes and Yankee baseball caps; of cheers and screams and hollers of ahhyabollocksya and programmesforfiveyooro; of melting ice-creams and surprising rain; of Croker and Clones and Fortress Aughrim; of withdrawn forwards and backs against the wall; of flasks of tea and pints of stout; of Sam and Liam and Marty Morrissey; of digs, flicks, skelps, skills, schemozzles and the whole, pulsing technicolour of a Championship afternoon.

The Sunday Game is back and will run gallantly through its archive over the next few months, but the games and the grammar of our summer have been taken from us.

It may be right and proper that 2020 is a lost summer for the GAA, and it may be right and proper that John Horan said so, but that doesn’t mean that vacant Championship days are not a travesty.


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