Seamus O'Rourke pictured in conversation with our columnist Colin Regan in Croke Park Picture: Willie Donnellan
Highlight of the Year
Has to be the response of the GAA community to the pandemic. When the first lockdown hit forcing the most vulnerable in our society to cocoon, GAA club volunteers across the 32 counties were amongst the first to mobilise. By May, nearly 20,000 volunteers were delivering essential goods (groceries, prescriptions, hot meals) to almost 35,000 people. It was a humbling experience to work in the GAA’s Community & Health department and see first-hand the positive impact this was having on those most impacted by Covid-19.
Lowlight of the Year
How did the impact of Covid-19 affect you?
I’ve missed Leitrim like I’ve never missed it before. I’ve always been a bit of a wanderer and the moment I could go and explore the world I was off. I never experienced a moment’s homesickness during all my travels. I guess that’s because I have a strong sense of where I’m from and always knew Leitrim and my family were there waiting for me. Take away the option of going home whenever you want and a whole new dynamic is created. I’ll never take it for granted again.
What was it like participating in sport at a time when the country was locked down?
I took up tennis when the first lockdown ended and joined the local community club in St. Anne’s Park (a beautiful 240 acres park in north Dublin, formerly an estate of the Guinness family). It was a brilliant respite and escape and my wife and I love getting in a game at the weekend.
As is my wont, I threw myself into the game and spent countless evenings at the club on my own trying to figure out how to serve! When tennis was shut down during the second lockdown I missed it terribly, as did all the members. It’s such a Covid-friendly game I think it was a mistake to close tennis clubs as, in our case, it forced more people into an already packed St. Anne’s Park to get their exercise.
Did the Covid-19 Lockdown change your attitude to sport?
I hope that everyone will better appreciate the role sport plays in supporting health and wellbeing rather than the excessive focus that is placed on the competitive element of all sport. The GAA took the challenging decision to proceed with our Cúl Camps at the height of summer to try to provide young people with a safe, fun, and healthy way to get together during a pandemic.
Some people were understandably wary, but 70,000 youngsters got to forget about Covid-19 for a week, see their friends, and get in their recommended 60 daily minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise. There were no outbreaks associated with the camps and we know this offered the Department of Education some reassurance that reopening the schools in September was viable. The coaches who facilitated the camps and my colleague Charlie Harrison, former Sligo footballer and national coordinator for Kellogg's Cúl Camps, deserve enormous credit.
Personality of the Year
I’m veering outside the world of sport to give this gong to Dr. Tony Holohan. When the country needed a steady hand and a cool-headed leader, Dr. Holohan delivered. Public health medics and professionals have dedicated their lives to improving the health and wellbeing of whole populations. The world normally pays little or no attention to this important work, work that has quietly transformed our lives.
Take life expectancy in Ireland as an example – in the 1950s, Ireland average life expectancy was 66. It is now 82. Think of everyone you know over the age of 66 and give thanks to our doctors, public health experts, researchers, and health workers, that they are still with us. Because if we were still living in the ‘50s chances are they would be dead by now. This year, instead of reserving our praise and worship for sport and movie stars, let’s give it where it’s due.
Team of the Year
I’m writing this before the All-Ireland Football final so if Mayo win, then this title goes to the men from the West. However, having watched the Limerick hurlers claim their second title in two years, and listening to the measured response from their young players, and the responsible way they celebrated this achievement while imploring the people of Limerick to also adhere to public health advice, they get my nod for now.
One to watch in 2021
I think the entire female sports world is one to watch in 2021. The 20x20 campaign has rightly brought a focus on our female athletes. In the GAA world specifically, there have been increased calls for the amalgamation of the GAA, LGFA, and Camogie Associations. You can do your bit next year by consuming more female sport on media, demanding media to provide improved coverage, and more importantly, by getting involved in the female game, be it as a player, a coach, an administrator or a spectator.