A Super(bowl) Sunday…sporting thrills and spills a welcome Covid distraction

I felt sorry for Alisson, as would any decent sports fan. Of course, these days goalkeepers are expected to be as fleet-footed as Michael Flatley

Thank God – and Sky – for sport.

During Lockdown 1, we were bereft, live sport, to our horror, a high profile casualty of Covid.

Seriously! How fortunate are we now? Cast your mind back to last April/summer…when many sports fans were really grateful for re-runs of soccer matches from the Jack Charlton glory days, world snooker flashbacks from the BBC, and classic GAA encounters from BC (before Cluxton).

Close to a year on, and with All-Ireland Championships almost miraculously salvaged (respect here for the misfortune that visited Sligo footballers), the fact that live (professional) sport continues to escape Covid’s shadow is a huge positive in what are extremely trying times.

I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that all is well on the sports’ front. Events are still spectator-less, the atmosphere has suffered accordingly, amateur sport is in lockdown, and financial clouds aren’t so much hovering as descending with menace.

Still, what joy and respite and distraction the ongoing sport has brought. Think back to those awful weekends of last summer, when nothingness reigned.

Last Sunday, especially when you factor in that it’s early February and not summer, was one very special day of sport.

We want our sport to be competitive and entertaining, but we love some drama too. And Sunday did not let us down. From Peter O’Mahony’s disastrous sending off for Ireland in Cardiff, to Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson’s catastrophic gift-wrapping of three vital Premier League points for arch-rivals Manchester City, it was a riveting day’s TV viewing. Later, there was yet another stunning and time-defying Super Bowl triumph for Tom Brady, preceded a few hours earlier by a classic finale to the Waste Management Phoenix Open. This golfing shoot-out was considerably more exciting than the name of the competition suggests. And, in a significant move that was almost emotional, the golfing elite actually had a real live audience, with about 5,000 spectators allowed to attend.

Given the hype that surrounds the Irish rugby team (and the status of the annual competition), their Six Nations clash with Wales was probably the main course (for Irish consumers at least) on this inviting menu. We’re never really sure what to expect from Ireland. Briefly ranked top team in the world a few years ago, we’ve sadly mastered underachieving in World Cups. Happily, there have been some very successful Six Nations’ campaigns this century, and while a Golden Generation may have mostly moved into retirement by now, we’re still immersed somewhere in a Golden Age.

Small margins can make big differences in rugby. On Sunday, the loss of O’Mahony – deservedly red-carded after a rash and dangerous challenge – was, on the face of it, a disaster for Ireland. Yet the team responded heroically, dominating the second quarter, and finishing strongly after Wales took control in the third quarter. It’s tempting to presume that Ireland would have won had it not been for O’Mahony’s rush of blood. But who can say what would have happened? Teams often find some extraordinary inner strength when they are down a player. Ireland certainly left everything on that magnificent Cardiff pitch on Sunday. They might have won it too, had Billy Burns’ last-gasp penalty found touch (and delivered a dream attacking position). Burns’ error and O’Mahony’s folly attracted much commentary on social media. Cue much local partisan campaigning for Rossie Jack Carty to get an immediate call-up! (In fairness, a very credible argument can be made for Jack’s inclusion).

After the disappointment of Ireland’s defeat, it was over to Sky Sports for Liverpool v Manchester City. The first half was rather pedestrian, especially after watching the lively last quarter in Cardiff. Later, at 1-1, the outcome was determined by critical errors by the Liverpool ‘keeper. He made two shocking mistakes, weak would-be passes to teammates being swooped on by high pressing City slickers. I felt sorry for Alisson, as would any decent sports fan. Of course, these days goalkeepers are expected to be as fleet-footed as Michael Flatley. I hope Alisson, O’Mahony (a wonderful player over the years) and Burns avoid the vitriolic know-alls on social media just now.

I enjoyed the golf, won by Brooks Koepka, with 53-year-old Steve Stricker rolling back the years with a sensational joint fourth placing (on 17 under par). The tournament was notable too for a welcome return to form by Jordan Spieth, a player who once threatened to rule the game.

Intrigued by all the publicity that surrounds it, I finally stayed up to watch a Super Bowl. The actual sport doesn’t appeal that much to me yet, but I obviously respect how huge it is. There were more interruptions/stoppages than in a Ryan Tubridy interview with a top politician. I think I enjoyed the analysis (on Sky, occasionally switching to BBC) more than the action. Super Bowl 2021 was yet another epic chapter in the amazing story titled ‘Tom Brady’. Now aged 43, the quarterback that Carlsberg would be focussed on if they were in this business, just keeps setting mind-blowing new standards.

By 3 am, it was time for me to concede to tiredness. It had been a wonderful day of TV sport, a memorable marathon…a resounding, spectacular and joyous victory for competitive, thrilling and entertaining combat, over…well, misery. Tough days mischieviously infiltrated…by one big, exuberant and somewhat madcap Happy Day. There will be more of them. A great sporting Sunday. I’m suggesting we go with a scoreline of Sport 4 Covid 0, and pandemic-defying high fives all round.