OPINION: Akin to 2020, the GAA can provide light in a seemingly endless tunnel

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TWELVE months ago, the calendar year kicked off with a bang for the Limerick GAA faithful as both county sides picked up preseason trophies in one brilliant night at the Gaelic Grounds on 11 January 2020.

Billy Lee’s footballers opened proceedings by capturing a first McGrath Cup win in fifteen years as John Kiely’s hurlers triumphed in the Munster senior league immediately after.

That January evening promised a successful season for both teams and after the most unusual of years, each finished the campaign with silverware as the footballers added the League title to the McGrath Cup, with the hurlers conquering all before them en route to League, Munster and All-Ireland honours in December.

13 December 2020; Limerick captain Declan Hannon lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup as Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael John Horan looks on following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Limerick and Waterford at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Yet, while 2020 began with much optimism, this year, although in its infancy, has the dark cloud of 2020 looming large as cases of COVID-19 have reached disturbing levels with a record spike in cases becoming a daily occurrence.

Nonetheless, we must look to this year with enthusiasm in the hope that the pandemic can quickly become a thing of the past.

2020 will always be remembered as the year of the ‘unprecedented’ but in the dark times, the importance of the GAA stood head and shoulders above as the national organisation went above and beyond.

When resigned to off-field activities, the GAA was central in ensuring the most vulnerable were catered to, with various fundraising initiatives to the fore with Declan Hannon even paying homage to the ‘Hit the Woah’ campaign during his All-Ireland speech.

The return of the club championships brought with it a newfound love of the brilliance of the games with countless epics witnessed across the county and nationwide.

Streaming would become the norm as those absent from the games could watch from the comfort of their homes.

The brilliant club campaign would make way for the intercounty season in October as the footballers and hurlers continued to spread the joy, ending with the ultimate goal of the Liam MacCarthy on 13 December.

While it has only been a month since that triumph, the thirst for GAA has quickly re-established itself with the minor hurlers offering a brief respite.

20 December 2020; Adam English of Limerick celebrates after scoring a point in extra time during the Electric Ireland Munster GAA Hurling Minor Championship Final match between Limerick and Tipperary at LIT Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Nonetheless, in the case of the GAA, absence certainly makes the heart grow fonder, with a gaping void now in the place of our great games.

The newest restrictions will almost certainly postpone the start of the 2021 season, which will come as a huge blow to not only those involved, but also anyone with an interest in the game.

The efforts of all those involved in the association provided a much needed release in 2020 and it seems likely the same will be needed for the foreseeable future.

Yet, as they have already proved, their light shines brightest in the dark.

Although I was in a privileged position to attend games, witnessing my local club in championship action during the pandemic will live long in the memory, as will watching Limerick claim a second All-Ireland with a couple of friends.

While 2020 started with a bang, it would quickly turn into a nightmare that has carried into 2021.

However, with the vaccine now being distributed, there is hope that we can soon return to some resemblance of normality and once again the GAA can be that beacon of hope.

One of the most used phrases to try and cope during the lockdown was Seamus Heaney’s, ‘if we can winter this one out, we can summer anywhere’.

Here’s hoping for a summer of GAA crowded with supporters.

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