Frank Brandon’s Column

Are some Covid restrictions doing more harm than good?

Our columnist on how lockdown can have unforeseen consequences; in praise of TG4’s Laochra Gael; being impressed by Davy Fitzgerald’s ‘toughest team’…and the return of ‘N17’…


It’s Sunday evening, and it’s cold and miserable. Carol and I have just enjoyed a lovely rural walk. I find myself thinking about the importance of exercise on people’s mental health, and the unnatural effect that Covid-19 has on us all. As we face another uncertain period of lockdown and all kinds of restrictions, I just wonder if the continued closure of certain outlets (like sports clubs, gyms and golf clubs) is doing more harm than good.

Of course I am well aware of the reasons for the continued closure of such places, and the importance of getting this awful virus under control, but sometimes I think that gyms (suitably sanitised) and golf clubs could do more to help our stressed out people than all these restrictions.

A friend told me last week that he really misses the freedom of going to the gym and the release he used to get from a workout.

On a personal basis, I would love to be able to go out and try to hit a golf ball. As I’ve noted here before, I find it hard to see how walking around a golf course with a handful of other players on a fine winter’s morning – breathing in the lovely fresh air – can be more dangerous than joining many others in any of the big multinational supermarkets (unless you’re met with a wayward golf ball).

The continued closure of sports clubs and the effect it can have on communities was tragically brought home to us all last week with the murder of a hugely talented young footballer in Dublin. One of his coaches mentioned that if these were normal times, and the sports clubs were open, the young lad would have been training as usual on the evening of his murder and would not have been anywhere near the streets.

Every evening we are given the figures for all the new Covid-19 cases, and the number of deaths that have sadly occurred as a result of the virus, but the name of the young footballer will not be included on the list. Yet, Covid-19 is just as responsible for his death as it is for any other tragedy.

Anyway, I know that the advice is that these places must stay closed, and I fully understand that we must respect such advice, but deep down I have to admit that I wonder if a little easing up of the rules might not help us all to see this pandemic out.

Staying with the death of the young lad whose name was all over the media last week but who cannot be named now for legal reasons, the horrendous modern culture of using knives in all kinds of altercations was once again brought into focus. While I do not claim to have the answer, surely our government must do something to take the knife out of our society. Maybe anyone found with a knife on their person could get a mandatory jail sentence, because no matter what excuses they come up with, anyone who leaves their home carrying a knife is up to no good and has no noble intentions.


Nice one, Shane…now it’s over to Johnny!

Last week I told you about my new favourite TV programmes, and Laochra Gael was one of the top three. I also told you that Roscommon’s Shane Curran was due to appear on it, and that I thought he would be an interesting and controversial subject. As it happens, he was actually featured last Thursday night, and was every bit as entertaining and fascinating as I thought he would be.

There is no doubt that he was, and probably still is, a unique and totally individualistic character. Some of the stuff he did on the football field was bordering on crazy, but was highly effective. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the insight that we got into his character and his life outside football, and all I can do is say, ‘well done, Shane’, and wish him well in the future.

Two things that struck me while watching the programme: the first is that I remember playing against Shane’s father, Tommy, back in the 1960s (he was a super player and a really top class forward), and the other thing is the major role Danny Burke played in the development of so many Castlerea footballers. There must be very few that didn’t benefit from his knowledge, experience and encouragement.

This week features another GAA star who didn’t always follow the rules either; I can’t wait to see if all the stories I’ve heard about Offaly hurling star Johnny Pilkington are even partly true. I sincerely hope they are. Don’t forget to check out TG4 on Thursday night at 9.30 pm.


In praise of Davy’s Toughest Team

Once upon a time back in the 1990s, when Clare hurlers were winning their All-Irelands and putting paid to the so-called Biddy Earley curse, I was briefly introduced to two of the Clare legends – captain Anthony Daly, and fiery goalie, Davy Fitzgerald. In the very short meeting, I concluded that they were as different as chalk and cheese.

Daly was cool, calm, collected and laid-back, but Fitzgerald was like a coiled spring – completely restless and never still. Nearly thirty years later, both have had very successful hurling management careers and are regularly featured in the media. While Daly still comes across as a cool, calm, collected person and a very shrewd pundit, it’s true to say that while still a loose cannon on the sideline, Davy has shown himself to be a man of many different, laudable qualities.

His involvement with TV’s Ireland’s Fittest Families is well known, and is completely suited to the competitive side of his personality. On Sunday however, we saw another side of the Wexford hurling manager when his new challenge (not just a TV show) Davy’s Toughest Team aired on RTE, and it is a really good show.

In it, Davy takes on seven young lads who have all faced huge challenges in their young lives. He tries to get some focus into their lives, and make them face the future with a new-found confidence. Everything seems to be built on getting the lads to trust other people, and the thing that most impresses about Davy is his total commitment to the cause – his desire to help these seven lads and his complete refusal to countenance failure. How they get on I have no idea, but I really hope Davy works his magic on them and they all go on to better places.

As for me, I have heard that Davy has bought a pub down there in Lahinch, and please God when everything gets back to normal, I plan to visit Davy’s Bar, have a pint, and remind him of the time he was lucky enough to have met me, in Ennis in the 1990s. Until then, there are still three more episodes of the Toughest Team, so keep an eye out for them. I wonder has Paul Healy a vacancy for a TV critic…must send him on my CV.


And finally…

More than thirty years ago, over the road in Tuam – a town that, during the showband era boasted top bands like The Johnny Flynn showband, Gerry Cronin and the Ohio, and the Olly Maloney band – a new rock band, The Saw Doctors, hit the road, and went on to be one of the most iconic, recognisable and successful of all Irish bands.

They had enormous hit songs like ‘I Useta Love Her’, ‘The Joyce Country Ceili Band’, and the song that has now catapulted them back on to centre stage, ‘N17’ – although this version is performed by the new singing sensation, Tolu Makay. The Nigerian-born singer, who was raised in Tullamore, has had a huge reaction to her performance of the song on the RTE New Year’s Eve show, even being tipped by Graham Norton as “one to watch”. To add to the positivity, the song is one of the most played on national radio.

Leo Moran of The Saw Doctors, who once took part in an impromptu singsong with Davy Carton in Mikeen’s, is delighted with the success of Tolu’s recording – as he is with the fact that radio stations that would never play The Saw Doctors are now playing one of their songs.

It’s a great success story, and my thanks go out to Peadar O’Chuinn for sending me an email reminding me of Tolu’s wonderful version of the iconic song. It just goes to show that anything can happen in showbusiness!

Despite the fact that, officially, the Saw Doctors are on a break since 2017, surely this new recognition will inspire them to make a comeback and thrill their many loyal fans. Maybe we might even have another impromptu singsong in Mikeen’s!