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National Festival of Sport would lift us all

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GLORY DAY: Kerry’s Colm Cooper destoyed Dublin in the first half of the 2013 All-Ireland
SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Cian O’Sullivan kept him quiet in the second half before goals
from Kevin McManamon and Eoghan O’Gara saw the Dubs over the line. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

GLORY DAY: Kerry’s Colm Cooper destoyed Dublin in the first half of the 2013 All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Cian O’Sullivan kept him quiet in the second half before goals from Kevin McManamon and Eoghan O’Gara saw the Dubs over the line. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

GLORY DAY: Kerry’s Colm Cooper destoyed Dublin in the first half of the 2013 All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Cian O’Sullivan kept him quiet in the second half before goals from Kevin McManamon and Eoghan O’Gara saw the Dubs over the line. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

It took a dear old friend to turn a key in the lock of hope, to offer an uplifting vista of a time beyond this annulled spring.

And to plant the seed of a post-lockdown fantasy, for when, at last, we emerge from this annihilated life.

For a day of national healing, a sporting Live Aid.

When TG4 opened the doors to one of Irish sport's listed buildings - Dublin v Kerry - on Sunday, the tumultuous reaction unbolted a window to the nation's starved soul.

On Twitter, #upthedubs and #AllIrelandgold trended number one and two; the damburst of excited commentaries on the contest pinging into my WhatsApp inbox would have submerged Hill 16 and the Hogan Stand.

Here was a seven-year-old contest - the epic, gunslinging 2013 semi-final shoot-out, a live contender for greatest game ever played - kidnapping the senses, firing a cartridge of adrenalin into the bloodstream and, yes, fraying the nerves.

Gooch touching divinity in the opening 35; Bernard Brogan and James O'Donoghue, twin studies in dead-eyed, reptilian nerve, transforming Croke Park into the Ally Pally oche, arrowing one dead-eyed 180 after another.

Diarmuid Connolly, Caesar at the height of his imperium, an untouchable sovereign, ruler of the world, the heaving old coliseum his private playhouse.

And so, a mesmeric afternoon of beautiful distraction unspooled.

That the audience knew the result was an insignificance. This heavyweight showdown felt vital and immediate, a gorgeous jolt to the senses.

It was, as we identified in the first paragraph, an old friend turning the key in that lock of hope.

By the time Kevin McManaman - who else - delivered the decisive thrust, a tumultuous sequel to his game-changing goal in the 2011 final, the escapist spell was complete.

Reminder

A little over an hour in the company of Kerry and Dublin was a reminder of the fortification against despair that captivating sport - even 2,408-day old sport - constructs.

And so, to my wild, imperfectly formed idea. A vision that casts sport as a lead actor in an eloquent communal reawakening, one that might shepherd Ireland from darkness, relight the candles of the old normality.

Call it a Festival of Remembrance, a National Renewal Week, a Salute to the Heroes.

Of course, it could only happen way down the tracks when we have Covid-19 in a headlock, a moment in time when the country can safely open a new page.

The concept is for a fanfare of reawakening, a nationwide blitz, an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime symphony of the great rivalries in Irish sport.

Dublin v Kerry; Munster v Leinster; Tipp v Kilkenny; Dundalk v Rovers; McIlroy v Lowry; Mullins v Elliott.

All in one dizzying carnival.

Croke Park, the Aviva, Semple Stadium, Oriel Park, Lahinch, Punchestown and so many more of Ireland's storied opera houses co-hosting a national reanimation.

Mayo and Galway at a heaving Castlebar; Páirc Uí Chaoimh staging a hurling/football spectacular on the 30th anniversary of their historic All-Ireland double. Donegal and Tyrone tangoing as only they can.

There would be VIP tickets for all frontline workers and support staff, doctors and porters, nurses and cleaners, supermarket workers, postmen and Gardaí who will, by that stage, have toiled selflessly for unceasing months.

In a powerful symbol of what was lost during the days of cocooning, a section of all arenas will be reserved for grandparents to sit next to their grandchildren.

For those who are unable to attend, the full programme of games would be screened live on free to air TV.

Of course, after so much loss, a solemn, dignified aspect would be fundamental to this gathering of the clans.

Before each contest, there would be an appropriate ceremony, a wreath-laying, a lament, a silence, a remembering of those lost to this barbaric pathogen. Families of the bereaved would be invited to every venue.

President Michael D Higgins might speak at Croke Park, his words relayed to all other arenas.

Gate-receipts would be donated to a charitable fund of the kind that will be so urgently required on the other side of these immensely testing, stillborn months.

The maxim of the original Live Aid would hold: An opportunity to do good while making people happy.

In a nod to Bob Geldof's 1985 original - when Phil Collins played both Wembley and Philadelphia - the Dubs and Kerry might play a first half in Fitzgerald Stadium, jump on a plane at Farranfore and emerge for a second 35 minutes in Croke Park.

Herculean

Organising such an event would be a herculean task. Every sport will be playing a huge game of catch-up, seeking to restart their own competitions.

But it is hardly beyond us. Imagine, the rush of joy it would send across the nation, how it would apply jump-leads to Ireland's flat engine.

At once, it would offer a stage for dignified remembrance and the launch pad for a new beginning.

Perhaps, it might be appropriate to construct such a programme around St Patrick's Day 2021, an authentic natural coming together to celebrate Ireland's feast day.

A day when Ireland, suffocated for too long both by anxiety and a merciless, microscopic enemy, might breathe easily again.