We have been on the frontline of the return to live action and ‘in-person’ activity over recent days and there are a number of things to strike us.

Last Thursday we were invited to the Sport Ireland campus for the launch of a new High-Performance strategy for Irish elite athletes.

Olympians including Rhy McClenaghan were present as we gathered in the courtyard of Abbotstown House, along with leading officials from the world of Irish sports administration, Ministers Catherine Martin and Jack Chambers and a team from agency teneo that were managing the event.

Driving out to the Campus there was a sense of giddiness about meeting real people in a work setting, something which has been an all to rare occurrence over the past near year and a half.

having a face to face conversation with Olympic Federation CEO Peter Sherrard, Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy and Paralympics Vice President Lisa Clancy was a reminder of the way things were and meeting outside in the sunshine meant we could speak without the barrier of a face mask.

Conversation with Chair of the High-Performance Committee Liam Sheedy shifted easily between the benefits of teaching running technique, to Tipp hopes for the year ahead and plenty more. There was little conversation about the virus, which was as it should be. Time and a place and all that.

Forms to be filled

When we moved inside for the briefing on the new strategy and other matters, it did rear its head again though with forms to be filled and the three journalists present spaced out at the required two metres.

Minister of State Chambers shared his hopes on a relaxation of numbers at venues but toed the political line that this was a decision that would be made at cabinet.

Paul McDermott and Niamh O’Sullivan outlined the thinking behind the comprehensive new approach towards funding and preparation that will lift us to a nation that expects 8-10 medals at Olympic Games and 12-16 at Paralympic Games over the next decade.

We asked questions like we always did, we forged relationships, like we always did, and then we went back to our home offices, thinking that things were on their way back.

On Saturday things stepped up a notch with the return to Croke Park after far too long an absence. The return of training and matches first for the kids and then across our clubs has lifted much of the ennui that was in danger of gripping many when they were forbidden to us, but getting back as a spectator has been longer in the making.

The first change was the setting up of a GAA Ticketmaster account, reflecting their securing of the GAA ticketing contract from Tickets.ie since the last time we were in the big stadium in February 2020.

The walk up from Seville Place, past a little makeshift fan zone for Kelli Harrington, and down Ballybogh Road towards the Cusack Stand was eerily quiet for a match day.

We had similar numbers to those who might be present for an Allianz Cumann na mBunscoil day, though without the frantic noise.

Entry was seamless with only the usual bag checks at the turnstile, and showing our tickets on the mobile phone. To get into Wembley for the Euro’s you have to complete a lateral flow test or produce evidence of double vaccination. It was more relaxed here.

Smiling with their eyes

Stewards were smiling with their eyes, behind their masks, and two welcomed us ‘home’ on the way in.

Once inside we joined everyone else in taking selfies with the pitch as a background and soaked it up as the familiar musical soundtrack rand around the ground heralding the arrival of the Dublin and Cork teams for the Lidl Ladies National League Division One Final.

The Fanwall was on the big screen and the familiar tones of Jerry Grogan were announcing substitutions as if nothing had ever changed.

We watched the game wearing a mask, we cheered when the goals went in but were distant enough from any Cork fans not to cause offence.

At the end, there was a bit of uncertainty among the players but eventually, they made their way over to say hello to family and friends, not with quite as much madness as would normally be the case but a sign still of things getting back to where they were.

That’s what getting back to normal is all about, a series of small progressions, trying not to slip up along the way and enjoying the moments as precious again now as they always were.

 

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