Paul Healy’s Week

Friday

 

Pity poor Arsene Wenger, the legendary former Arsenal manager. When he finally got around to writing his autobiography (in shops now), his sad fate was to have his key TV promotional interviews in the UK and Ireland scheduled with Graham Norton and Ryan Tubridy respectively.

Norton offers no pretence of having much knowledge of or interest in sport, which is fair enough. Norton to Wenger: “I always thought that if the players are good enough, they will do their thing…that they don’t need a manager”.

Meanwhile, someone in Late Late Show land obviously decided to tick a few boxes when preparing questions for shameless Ryan!

In their virtual chat, a very patient Wenger was asked by Tubridy about the Thierry Henry handball incident (presumably because, like Henry, Wenger is French); pressed to praise Irish fans; queried about Roy Keane (no mention of Patrick Vieira, whom Wenger managed and who had many classic clashes with Keane)…and so on and so on.

The most cringeworthy part of the interview was when Tubridy – presumably thinking he was asking Wenger what every viewer wanted – pressed his guest on the handball controversy of…2009.

Embarrassingly, Tubridy informed his presumably startled guest that the Irish have a compromised relationship with Paris ever since Thierry’s naughty act. When Wenger very patiently and courteously commented on a matter that really had nothing to do with his life journey, Tubridy added a new layer of embarrassment, ungraciously stating: “We’re not over it yet”.

We are over it. Whether Arsene is over his Late Late outing or not is another matter.

 

Saturday

 

All week, the public mood was turning against the GAA. Yet, earlier in the summer, the absence of the games was being sorely felt. Of course what angered the public was the irresponsible behaviour of some fans when celebrating county final wins. This understandable anger shouldn’t really have been conflated with the GAA’s plans on the inter-county front. That’s not to say that the GAA (and other sport) continuing isn’t a legitimate subject for discussion and ongoing review.

Roscommon footballers travelled to Armagh with that uneasy atmosphere prevailing. The match itself was entertaining, and Roscommon’s excellent win surely lifted the spirits of fans watching on TV. By all accounts, the organisation by the Armagh hosts was excellent, and all Covid-related guidelines were adhered to. It was a superb performance by Roscommon. We have full coverage in our sports section.

 

All week

 

This is really testing us now. Wearing people down. It’s hurting people, this wretched crisis. The new normal is unpleasant. Sure, there may be positive lessons we can learn from the whole experience, aspects of lockdown (remote working, work/life balance, appreciation of family time, etc.) that we will use for our benefit in the future. But just now, this is a saga that is attacking the spirit of the people.

People remain courteous and decent, and, for the most part, very responsible with regard to the guidelines. But the joy that life can give has itself been infected. We are all used to life’s ups and downs, but we did not expect such a tsunami of despair to visit us.

It’s not normal to see mask-wearing old people shuffling warily on the pavements, to see apprehension and strain on faces in shops. School children congregate in bubbles or pods in schoolyards, some of them wearing face coverings, all of them aware of the heartlessness of 2020.

It’s Level 5 from today. For six weeks. Then what? Who knows? Around us, heroes. We must never forget the great work and courage of frontline workers. It must be particularly challenging and stressful for the heroic staff in local nursing homes, in our hospitals, in all our health facilities. They are at the front of the frontline. This applies to medical and care personnel, but also to caterers, cleaners, to all who are involved in looking after people in these centres. Those working in shops are also on the frontline. They are engaging with hundreds of people every week, all against a background of Covid-19 guidelines…and a sometimes tense public.

I thought Micheál Martin spoke well and was quite reassuring when he addressed the nation on Monday night. Simon Harris is (again) playing a blinder. And, for all the slightly mischevious solo runs he’s prone to, straight-talking Leo Varadkar continues to be a calming, measured voice in all of this.

I’m not sure what Level 5 will look like. We’ll have a sense of that in the next few days. It isn’t lockdown as we knew it earlier this year. It’s a balancing act. This time the schools will be open – so too construction – plus so-called elite sport is being permitted. But thousands of businesses will close from today – and that’s heartbreaking for those involved. This stop-start trading year (mostly stop) has been disastrous for SMEs. Apart from the devastating financial implications, these forced closures must be impacting on the mental health of many business owners. Experiencing anguish, uncertainty and fear too are the hundreds of thousands of people who are losing their jobs.

And still, on this gloomiest of journeys, we must think in particular of those we have lost, of those who are bereaved. Covid has even managed to mercilessly tamper with death itself, robbing families of private time with the dying…coldly stripping traditional Irish funerals of much of their intimacy, warmth, compassion.

When we are told to ‘socially distance’, it is not normal. When kids can’t play together, when teenagers can’t socialise, it is not normal. And so, yes, this is really testing us now. There is growing division in our society, less of the solidarity of March and April. Some of that is healthy enough, I suppose; it’s good that different views are aired on how we should tackle this pandemic.

But now, with Level 5 muscling in, it is important that we act together with that sense of cohesion that was so evident during the earlier lockdown. Level 5 will be less restrictive than lockdown, but still restrictive enough. People should not take a casual approach or look for loopholes – just because we are not closing down in full. We need to pull together, to defeat the virus, to restore the real normal, to welcome the joy back in the future.

It’s important to look out for others too. Many people are in despair. Loneliness and fear are having a good 2020. But we will of course overcome this. Hopefully in six weeks’ time, even as the winter darkness nears, light and brightness will reign in our country. Stay safe.

 

Tuesday

 

The ‘Excuse my sarcasm’ corner: More on what is and isn’t permitted under Level 5…four bankers, one agriculture minister, one EU Commissioner and strictly just one arrogant Supreme Court judge will still be allowed to play golf together. As ever, distancing from rest of society and washing hands of responsibility applies.