Frank Brandon’s Column

A long journey…but there’s light at the end of the tunnel!

Our man Frank on a return to some normality, getting vaccinated, the end of Eurovision ‘magic’, and hope for aging golfers everywhere…

It’s exactly six minutes past four on Friday evening, and I am close to the city centre in Dublin, just about to head west. As it’s not yet rush hour, I am fairly confident that we will be out on the open road in no time, and should be home in little more than the usual two hours or so. Traffic seemed to be a little heavy, but not sufficient to give any cause for concern…little did I know that it would take a full hour and a half for us to get as far as the Spa Hotel in Lucan!

While things improved a little after that, it was just after eight in the evening before I made it back to the comfort of my own armchair – albeit with a short pit stop for food in Kinnegad. Many times down through the years when writing this column, I have talked about how lucky we are to live ‘out in the country’, where the only traffic jam is caused by some livestock crossing the road or getting caught behind a slow moving tractor (almost a thing of the past) but, at the very worst, you will only be held up for a few minutes before continuing on your merry way.

While I have not changed my views on the benefits of a peaceful rural existence, in a funny way the extremely heavy Dublin traffic was nearly a welcome sight, as it proved once and for all that we, as a nation, are beginning to see the light at the end of a very long Covid-19 tunnel and are heading, at long last, back to some type of normality.

The last time I was in Dublin was during Level Five lockdown. I had to go up for a medical appointment, and there was literally no traffic at all on the motorway. It just seemed so unusual to see the normally bustling road so quiet. Thankfully, it was a very different story on Friday evening last; it was almost as if Covid had never happened.

 

Second jab as sport returns to Creggs

Saturday morning was a morning I had looked forward to for more than a year: I was bound for Roscommon town where I was to receive my second vaccination.

As I drove through my own village of Creggs, right before my eyes there was another example of returning normality – the village was alive with what seemed like hundreds of children taking part in underage rugby. The coaches were putting them through their paces and some of the children’s parents are watching on, while a few of the more energetic ones are getting in their own exercise on the beautiful walkway that the rugby club has installed.

I received jab number two, and I have to admit that despite the warning that it would be another week before it would be fully effective, and that there was a reasonable possibility of a slightly adverse reaction, I was absolutely delighted to have got it. I found there was a spring in my step (mind you it could do with one) as I made my way home.

As it happened, I had no problem at all with the vaccine and on Saturday evening I watched on as our Creggs footballers had a no-contact training session (again in the rugby club as the GAA pitch is currently being renovated). Once again, it was as if a cloud had lifted around the place. The St. Ciaran’s’ camogie team was also training there, and on Sunday morning the Glinsk men and women as well as the St. Ciaran’s’ ladies footballers were all out training too. It was great to see.

I’m obviously not a doctor or a member of NPHET but it still baffles me how anyone benefitted from having all the pitches in the country lying idle while multi-national supermarkets had any amount of customers going through their doors. However, it’s great that the youth (and some not so youthful) can get out exercising again. Hopefully it won’t be too long until we stand on the side of a pitch, roaring encouragement at our players – I promise not to shout abuse at any ref this year, but don’t tell them that just yet!

 

Eurovision magic is long gone

Back in 1970, I was in my second year in Cistercian College, Roscrea and to our great delight, we were allowed to watch the Eurovision Song Contest.

We (a couple of hundred of us) crowded into the recreation hall, where there was a single black and white television set up. Of course, being one of the smallest lads in the school, I couldn’t see anything. However there was huge universal delight when a beautiful little slip of a girl, Dana, a schoolgirl from Derry, sang her way into the hearts of the nation while winning the Eurovision title with what is still an iconic song – ‘All Kinds of Everything’. If memory serves me right, we were all let off the following evening’s study in celebration.

That was the start of an Irish love affair with Eurovision, which lasted for a very long time. During those years we became the most successful Eurovision nation of all time, winning the contest several times, and producing songs like ‘What’s Another Year’ and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids’, which will forever last the test of time. I am well aware that there are still many people in Ireland who are completely bonkers about the ‘Song Contest’, but for me, the magic is long gone. The truth is that I don’t remember the last time I actually watched it, or even know who won it.

This year’s contest took place last Saturday night. I didn’t watch it and would’ve had no idea who won were it not for the storm that broke out over claims that the lead singer of the winning Italian rock group (Maneskin) was seen taking drugs after their big win.

The singer, Damiano David, denied taking any drugs and has since passed a drugs test. However, on the basis that in the world of entertainment ‘no publicity is bad publicity’, I would think they may be secretly delighted with the international coverage. It certainly had an effect on me, as in the normal run of things, I would never have heard of Damiano and his Maneskin colleagues, and their big win on Saturday night would’ve gone right over my head. I don’t imagine it’s much use to them, but at least I now know they are the champions of Eurovision, even if their win was slightly overshadowed by the unsubstantiated allegations.

As for Ireland, once again we failed to get past the semi-finals, so you’d have to wonder where we go from here. The Italians must be delighted to have won it with Maneskin after such a tough run with Covid-19. The country, I’m sure, was glad to have any type of good news to celebrate.

Sadly, Sunday’s cable car disaster in the Italian Alps has already put paid to any national euphoria, and the death toll of fourteen people (including at least one child) has seen the country experience yet another period of mourning. I don’t know the cause of the tragic accident but it’s hugely traumatic just as tourism is beginning to open up again in Italy. Whatever the cause, it really is a terrible disaster, and my heart goes out to all of those who have been affected.

 

And finally…

Sport played a big part in the weekend just gone and for me, two events stood out.

The first was the fantastic victory by 50-year-old Phil Mickelson, who became the oldest ever winner of a golfing Major when he won the PGA Championship on Sunday evening, thereby winning his sixth Major title. The fantastic top four finishes of Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry were also very commendable and hugely impressive from an Irish point of view, but big Phil was a popular winner and a great role model for the older golfer. I can’t wait to get back on the course and see if his achievement will inspire me; somehow I doubt it, but you can only live in hope!

The other big event was the Kerry and Dublin National Football League match. Even though The Kingdom did well to get a draw at the finish, let no one be fooled, the ease with which the Dubs cut open the Kerry defence was more than ominous, and their four goals were scored so easily that it would not augur well for the Munster men should they meet again later in the year.

As for Galway, despite my huge forebodings, they managed to put one over on the Rossies, so that was something. However, I am not convinced by them, and still rate Mayo and Roscommon as the two top teams in Connacht. July 4th in the Hyde will tell a tale, and will surely be a battle royal, but on all the evidence so far, it still looks to me like the Dubs will be in ‘Seventh Heaven’ come the end of the year.

 

‘Till next week, Bye for now!