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Walk on - with hope in your heart

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CRUSADER: Philly McMahon at Mountjoy Prison

CRUSADER: Philly McMahon at Mountjoy Prison

CRUSADER: Philly McMahon at Mountjoy Prison

To carry him to a place beyond Shawshank's grim and forbidding watchtowers, Andy Dufresne allowed the golden Pacific sands of Zihuatanejo play on an endless loop in his mind.

To nourish his soul and reawaken his sanity, Dufresne barricaded himself into Warden Norton's office, broadcasting Mozart's heavenly Duettino-Sull'aria into the prison yard.

Long before he escaped, Andy had unshackled his essence, set his imagination free.

He had illustrated how intrepidly the mind will rebel against any caging, how it will seek to rise above the horrors of incarceration, how, no matter how punitive the sentence, there exists an urge to cry freedom.

Perhaps because its central theme is the power of the human spirit, a boundless body of sporting stars list Shawshank Redemption as their favourite movie.

As Ireland yearns for a draught of sunlight, to jail break from Covid-19's claustrophobic, rayless cell, perhaps we might take a lead from the central character in that wise and inspiring film.

In a timely interview in today's Irish Independent and Herald, Philly McMahon talks to Conor McKeon about his work with inmates in Mountjoy Prison.

Dublin's seven-time All-Ireland winner draws fascinating parallels with the lockdown enforced upon the nation by the coronavirus pandemic.

"When people are in jail, their only thought, their only motivation is to get out. That's their entire objective. To get their freedom back.

"And that's what people are going to crave now. And that's why they'll struggle with their mental health."

How true. It might sound trite to suggest that to assist in the complex process of safeguarding sanity in these suffocating hours, we too might conjure images as uplifting and unfettered as Andy's Mexican idyll.

Imagination

And yet, the power of the imagination is one weapon Covid-19 cannot decommission.

There is little to be lost from deploying the familiar, intoxicating music of sporting combat as a kind of mental vaccine, an aria to liberate our thoughts from the harrowing stories of death that are our new everyday.

Imagine Croke Park or Semple Stadium on a cloudless summer Sunday, Jack McCaffrey or David Clifford or Paudie Maher making magic, Davy Fitzgerald uncontainable on the sideline, Mayo again a red and green wave of yearning.

Or flood your mind with the masterworks of Lionel Messi, stand on the Kop serenading Jurgen Klopp, feel again the communal power of the Stretford End, Elland Road or Celtic Park wash over your being.

Take a ringside seat as Garry Ringrose slaloms across the Aviva exhibiting the balance and pace and grace of an Alpine skier; or picture Keith Earls hitting the afterburners and making Thomond Park his private playhouse.

Many years ago, I played a round of golf in Greystones with RTÉ's late, great Vere Wynne-Jones.

Vere, forever intoxicated by the wonder of the world, a cold house for cynicism, was giddy, heartsoar company.

The fifth hole in Greystones is a short, elevated par three, offering a stunning, panoramic vista over a gorgeous stretch of coastline.

As we stood on the green, I noticed Vere wiping his eyes as he looked out at the azure waters. He was in tears.

"You know, he told me, when I was in hospital (he had recently been seriously ill), it was that view out there that kept me going. I had it hung like a portrait in my mind. And it was a target for me to see it again for real."

These are unprecedented times, a challenging narrowing of life's normal parameters; even if we are fortunate enough to stay physically healthy, changing circumstances present a daunting examination of our mental resolve.

For many, it requires a sustained effort not to slide down a psychological gangway into the waters of depression.

To avoid the fall, we clutch tightly to any promise of a better tomorrow.

For those of us to whom sport has been such a soothing companion on the journey through life, surrendering to imaginings of that not too distant hour when the taps of combat are switched back on supplies a lovely, gushing refuge.

Personalise your own image. Maybe a few Saturday afternoon bets with friends, the opening flourish of that eternal Sunday Game theme tune, the blessed return to mindless normality that a row over the latest VAR controversy would represent.

Renewal

Or the first creamy post-match pint, one that tastes of renewal, a new beginning, the triumph of the human spirit.

Allow such thoughts to be your companion in the weeks ahead, when you feel like the walls are closing in let your favourite team at your preferred venue be your Zihuatanejo, your Greystones, your Mozart.

Andy Dufresne, a font of Shawshank wisdom, says this: "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and hope never dies."

So, stay safe and walk on, an ocean load of that most precious commodity filling your heart to the very brim.