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Time running out - even for Cluxton

Horan's impressive address a sobering dose of realism

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Legend: Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton following the All-Ireland SFC Final replay win over Kerry at Croke Park last September

Legend: Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton following the All-Ireland SFC Final replay win over Kerry at Croke Park last September

SPORTSFILE

Legend: Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton following the All-Ireland SFC Final replay win over Kerry at Croke Park last September

As if spilling out of some fevered imagination, this tangle of images kidnapped the senses as The Sunday Game sailed back to a changed world, forbidding black sails rigged to its mast.

The trigger point was GAA President John Horan's impressive yet devastating interview with Des Cahill, the one that confirmed the worst of our fears.

Horan, his moral compass unwavering, a study in clarity, was stark, humane, statesmanlike and empathetic, even as he drove a stake through the heart of summer.

It was a study in leadership, in stark contrast with the same night's Downing Street chaos rodeo, Johnson as manic, uncertain and muddled as a novice cowboy being bucked by a deranged mustang.

To distil Horan's address down to its essential message: So long as there is social distancing, there would be no Gaelic games; no football, no hurling; no Brian Cody, no David Clifford, no Davy Fitz, no Mayo straining for the sun.

And no Cluxton.

For any athlete in his 39th year, even one as immune to the passing years as Dublin's North Star, the hourglass is inevitably running down to its last granules.

If Horan's words effectively KO'd the 2020 season, the glass half-empty prognosis is that they also leave the 2021 championship hanging by a thread.

The more upbeat analysts talk of a Covid-19 vaccine in 18 months. Given the likelihood of second and third waves of the virus, can social distancing be lifted before then? Can we endanger amateur sportsman and potentially put their families in the line of coronavirus fire before then?

It is not inconceivable that Cluxton might have turned 40 before the All-Ireland race can be run again.

Even for a figure whose career evokes the supernatural, the odds have substantially shortened that the keeper who changed the course of GAA history played his last game for Dublin on an historic afternoon eight months ago.

Not that Cl uxton, famously low-key, obsessed with performance, indifferent to celebrity, craves a 21-gun salute farewell. The notion of any saccharine, goodbye to the Hill would likely have turned his blood cold.

And, if the reel really is run, bowing out as a five-in-a-row captain, Footballer of the Year, and with the title deeds to the championship appearance record, hardly amounts to going quietly into the night.

Reminder

Still, it is one more jolting reminder of Covid-19's rapacious desire to steal every last notion of control from our already annihilated lives.

The slaughter of hope gathers pace.

One after another the psychological comfort blankets that sport can offer are stripped away until we are left shivering on the edge of despair with nothing to cling to.

Hours before The Sunday Game, Daniel Weiss, President of The Met had held a profound nugget of wisdom up to the light.

"Art," he said, "is not an amenity it is a central part of the human experience."

Sport is the art form of choice for so many people, an essential re-charger when the emotional battery falls close to zero. It lends our life shape. It is a form of escape, an assertion of identity and tribe, a nutrient for the soul.

It slakes an elemental thirst for human interaction and competition.

It stitches beauty into the pattern of existence.

A stillborn GAA summer denies Ireland so much more than a series of football and hurling contests.

Rituals and traditions planted deep in the national soil are uprooted. The old fabric of our lives is torn and frayed.

John Horan's logic was unimpeachable. His address was an essay in good sense.

Yet as the reality of his message sunk its teeth into our psyche, it bit down on morale like an Everglades alligator.

For many of us, the summer custom meeting up with old friends, wargaming potential big-game strategies over a pre-match pint is something more than the highpoint of the long days.

It is very stuff of being alive.

Art is not an amenity. It is a central part of the human experience. But now the GAA galleries are closed, our essence starved of something essential and life affirming.

It feels like we are dancing on quicksand.

Calamity

Until early March, our world was a foot-to-the-pedal 100mph blur.

A Deliveroo order delayed by five minutes was confused with som e kind of existential calamity.

Now, with the planet trapped in what feels like a permanent eclipse, the sense is of being marooned on a psychological desert island unsure when or even if a rescue ship might pass.

So, we crave not only a coronavirus vaccine, but inoculation against hopelessness and melancholy. For a huge Irish constituency, that means a booster shot of Seamie Callanan or Patrick Horgan or Joe Canning, Jack McCaffrey bounding across fresh-cut grass, Spillane or Brolly tossing acetylene on an already flaming controversy.

Measured, sensible, prioritising health, John Horan was forced to tell us that these sensory pleasures are on indefinite hold.

And though he was rational, compassionate and wise, still it felt like battery acid being sprayed on an open wound.

As if the gods were mocking our increasingly desperate pleas for the return of a little of the old life, the one where despair was measured in the excess minutes we had to wait for the Deliveroo courier to ring our front door bell.