Joe Brolly

Joe Brolly: This time last year I was getting ready to go to Croke Park to watch  Corofin

A TYRONE enemy/friend/somewhere between the two as is the GAA way, texted me yesterday to  say “Look on the bright side, Derry will be in the championship for  longer than anytime in the last decade.”

I was also sent a memo from a GAA member to his club chairperson which  reads as follows: “Dear sir, the evidence strongly suggests that our  members have been preparing for COVID 19 for a considerable period of  time. Our defenders are never within two metres of anyone, our  midfielders and goalie rarely catch anything, and our forwards are  incapable of passing anything on. As for our mentors and committee,  they are experts at washing their hands. Yours sincerely…”

A barrister put a message into the barristers’ Whatsapp group this  morning. “This is eerily normal. Like the start of any disaster movie
ever made.” Eerily abnormal for GAA folk. Empty pitches. No matches. No training.  Nothing to read about. Nothing to look forward to. Nothing to write  about.


In an episode of the BBC series ‘I’m Alan Partridge’, Partridge, whose second series has been cancelled, is desperately pitching ideas to the
BBC’s Head of TV, Tony Hayers.

Partridge: A detective series based in Norwich called Swallow. Hayers: Go on.  Partridge: He’s a detective who tackles vandalism, a bit of a maverick. Hayers: No. Partridge: Think of it, no one had heard of Oxford before Inspector Morse.

Hayers: No. Partridge: Arm wrestling with Chas & Dave? Hayers: No. Partridge: Right. You’ll like this. Knowing M.E. knowing you.
Hayers: What’s that? Partridge: I talk to M.E. sufferers about their condition, we  intersparse it with their favourite pop songs, keep it light hearted,  you’ve got to keep the energy up for them.

Hayers: No, no, no, no. Partridge: Inner city sumo. Hayers: What’s that? Partridge: We take fat people from the inner cities, put them in big  nappies, then get them to throw each other out of a circle we draw on  the ground in chalk. Hayers: No, it’s a terrible idea. Partridge: Very cheap to make. Hayers: No. No. Is that it? Partridge: No. What about ‘Cooking in prison’? Hayers: Oh No. Partridge: ‘Monkey tennis’? Hayers: No, no, no. I’m sorry, no, stop. Stop.

I ran into Tyrone’s John Joe O’Neill once at Belfast Airport. He was  seeing his daughter off. She was going to Spain to stay in John Joe’s
holiday home. “Are you not going out with her?” “No,” he said, “I never go near the  place.” “You never go to your holiday home?” “Never.” “Why not?” “I’ll  tell you why Joe. There is no Irish News. No brown sauce. No matches  to go to.” I burst out laughing but he was right. Who wants to live in  a world with no GAA?

I worked in London once for four months, in the days before the  internet. I lived in Teasel Way in East Ham, in a slum operated by the
East London Housing Association, where drug dealers cruised around in  Ford Capris and addicts lay strung out on the stairs.
My mother took to sending me out the Mid Ulster Observer every week.

When you are away from home, headlines like “Maghera lady with large  family circle passes away peacefully at 92” or “Drunken Swatragh  bricklayer who told paratrooper to “F… off back to the jungle” fined
£30” are strangely comforting. Best of all was the sports section,  where Seamus “The Scribbler” Mullan wrote florid, dramatic reports on
the weekend club games.

Here is one I kept, word for word. “Dungiven won this pulsating game  at O’Cahan Park with two goals in the space of three minutes. The
first of the highest artistry, Kieran ‘The Wart” Kelly lobbing the  hapless Ballinderry keeper Pat McKee with the daintiest of touches off
the outside of his right foot, after bamboozling him with one of his  trademark dummies. The second, one of sheer brute force, Dungiven
colossus Brian McGilligan barging the now forlorn keeper into the net  along with the ball. The second goal caused a flurry of fist fighting,
but referee Sean McGuigan didn’t over react, McKee’s head cleared  after a moment or two, and when the ball was kicked out there
wasn’t another word about it.”

What a lift to read these columns once a week. How vividly they  brought me back to the heart’s delight. I could have punched the air
as I was reading them. The centre pages of the Mid Ulster’s sports section were a  kaleidescope of photographs of the spectators at the games, entitled  “They were there.” Danny McNicholl the photographer (his nickname was  ‘Danny Click’) would observe the same ritual at every game. He would  wander around the perimeter of the field, inside the fence, very  showily taking pictures of the crowd. He would come to the fence, give  the thumbs up to that section of the crowd, then take a bunch of pics  before moving on another 20 yards and repeating the process.

I thought it was cheesy until years later when the editor of the paper  told me it was their biggest selling point. It was the days before
selfies and camera phones and for many folks, getting their picture in  the paper was a big deal. So, they all went out and bought the Mid
Ulster, then scanned it eagerly to see if they had made the cut. As  for ‘Danny Click’, he became a local legend, and still is. The interesting thing was that I never read the Mid Ulster Observer  before I went, and I never read it after I came back home. But in
London, it was a life-line.

This time last year, I was getting ready to go to Croke Park to watch  Corofin, full of excitement, wondering what party tricks they would
play on Killarney Dr Croke’s and buying a brand new notebook to fill  it with notes about their method. This St Patrick’s Day, the St Brigid’s club was preparing to send a  cavalcade to the Schools’ Cup finals, eight of our minors featuring in  the St Pat’s, Knock team that had played brilliantly on the way to a  breakthrough final.

Now, that is gone. But suddenly, it feels like something vast is coming. In the absence of any leadership from government in the North, with no  measures imposed and so much confusion in our communities, we must  keep our elderly and infirm neighbours and loved ones safe with no  contact, delivering their groceries, setting them up with SKYPE and  Facetime, keep our kids home from school, and follow best practice as  set out by the World Health Organisation website and what is now  belatedly happening in the South. Good luck to you all.

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