Groundhopping: Ireland (vs Wales, Aviva Stadium)

Date: 11 October 2020

Competition: UEFA Nation’s League, League B, Group 4

Result: Ireland 0 – 0 Wales

Tickets: Not available to the public (entry via press pass)

Attendance: circa 50 press.

The game: It’s a really quite surreal experience watching international football from a socially distanced press box, fully masked, far enough from the other journalists in attendance to make a conversation almost impossible. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a game quite so quietly, chomping away on the free crisps and sandwiches and watching the action unfold far below, yet still hearing every word the players shout at each other.

I reviewed the game in full here if you’re tempted to read up; it wasn’t a classic, with Ireland hampered by corona withdrawals ahead of the game, especially up front. In truth, in going to almost every Ireland hme game for the last 3 or 4 years, I’ve only seen a couple that I really thought were great entertainment. They should probably have won, however, with Wales – despite the presence of the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Daniel James – offering precious little. I quite like the look of Ireland under Stephen Kenny. It’s a far better style of passing, attacking football that’s actually really quite pleasant to watch, if frustratingly inefficient at the sharp end. Hopefully, the results will come.

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 162

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, and for a short time, it felt like, at least from Ireland’s perspective, there was a slim chance that there simply wouldn’t be any more need to comment. If only.

Ireland has taken a major step backwards, with two days of nearly 200 cases announced in the last week as problems in meat factories, Direct Provision Centres and with reduced restrictions start to take their toll. It’s distressing, in large part because we had come so far – down to single figure cases daily, on average, for a few weeks – and things are starting to look like they’ve come undone.

We’re currently on a summer holiday in Donegal, which has been excellent but very weird: no restaurants, no indoor entertainment outside of our AirBnB, and very limited contact with locals. We picked the spot partly with that in mind. Malin Head’s beaches and hills are worth time on their own, and dropping into the odd quiet coffee shop for a take out cappuccino and shopping quickly, and masked, in supermarkets has done the job. It’s not exactly a glamourous summer break, especially with the regular drizzle, but it suits the situation quite well.

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 129

There’s something so psychologically weird about an invisible enemy. It’s added to by the kind of ‘lag time’ involved in the virus – it doesn’t show symptoms for several days. It’s hard to handle: you know that you’ve been somewhere slightly risky (the supermarket, for example), and you don’t know if you’re now a risk to yourself and your family.

Of course, it’s entirely impossible to avoid any level of risk at all: if you’re locked up in your house, you’re at the very least requiring someone else to supply you with food and essentials, and that in itself is a risk. Life is also a constant risk, I accept that, but at least life’s risks typically manifest immediately, rather than hanging over you like an anxiety axe, waiting to fall, or not.

It’s been 129 days since Ireland went into lockdown, and probably a week longer than that since we started to have serious concerns about how coronavirus was going to impact us personally and directly, as opposed to in more abstract and distant ways. It feels like it hit hard, and while things have improved substantially since the worst times (for Ireland) back in April and May, things like ‘second wave’ and the daily check on the number of cases have become everyday language, and hovering worries.

The consequences come out in a number of waves other than the obvious illness itself – the current death count is somewhere north of 1,700 here, but now, thankfully, creeping up only very slowly. The effects are huge economically, of course, but the social consequences are substantial, too, as is the general sense of malaise, which has played out to some extent in the media and in public dialogue in looking for people to blame.

Some of those people should, legitimately, have been far more careful. American tourists giving interviews on national radio from Dublin Airport as they land from some of the worst-hit areas and telling Ireland that “the risk is exaggerated” quickly become pariahs, and anger at them is understandable, in my opinion. Videos of young people leaving large house parties show not enough care is being taken, but blaming young people and Americans (or China, as the point of origin of corona), just seems a little ridiculous and overblown.

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 112

I’ve stepped away from these for a while because I needed the headspace, but here goes.

So technically, we are no longer in shutdown (I won’t rename the regular blog). The figures for new cases in Ireland have dropped to consistently very low double figures, and occasionally single figures so the signs are promising, though there hasn’t been quite the continued drop towards no cases at all in the last two weeks that perhaps we’d hope for. We – my family, though by no means everyone – are still working from home, though our son has returned to school, which is somewhat surreal under the circumstances, taught to tiny numbers and largely outdoors.

It feels like we’re now entering a period of stabilization, and how the numbers of cases change in the coming weeks will be important. We intend to continue to be exceptionally careful, spending almost all of our time away from others and trying to make the most of the countryside and the things we can do outdoors. Honestly, though, it’s getting more and more difficult to do in practise.

What’s really concerning is the broader, international picture. While Europe broadly seems to be in reasonably consistent recovery, the US and Brazil, in particular, are in wild territory, with new cases in both countries close to 50,000 a day. It’s hard to see where that could possibly end. As the below shows, globally we may not even be at a peak yet.

This is a huge worry, because ultimately, if things are to be anything close to what they were before, we’ll need corona to die out internationally, too, and that feels a very, very long way off.

For now, we have to be content with our newfound freedoms, and through a combination of sensible distancing, masks, limited social interaction, and basic common sense, ensure that we don’t abuse them. It’s hard to imagine we will be abroad until at best, very late this year.

Until then, perhaps we can see a bit more of Ireland, there are worse ways to be stuck. Hopefully the mental toll won’t become too taxing along the way, and we all keep our health.

The Dublin Mountain Way (Run/ Hike)

Route: Shankill –> Rathmichael Woods –> Carrickgollagan –> Barnaslingan –> The Scalp –> Glencullen –> Three Rock –> Tibradden –> Cruagh –> Bornabreena Reservoir –> Tallaght (Shamrock Rovers) –> 2km toward home (main route as described here).

Distance: 44.7km

Time: 6 hours 3 minutes (excluding a couple of snack stops, maybe another 20 minutes)

Pros: Largely really beautiful, with the route taking in sparse mountain tops, forest walkways, some nice, runnable (if you’re fitter than me) hills, excellent views, and the odd nice village to travel through. The Glencullen Adventure Centre (a few kms before halfway) is a great stop off, really relaxed and with good coffee. The route is fairly well signposted throughout (especially well on The Scalp, where it’s necessary), with signs at pretty much every junction. There were large stretches on a Friday morning where I didn’t see anyone for at least a couple of kms, so despite being within the Dublin county boundary, this felt really quite rural. Check out the pictures – the first two-thirds of this route are genuinely lovely.

Cons: Everything from about 28km onwards except the Bornabreena reservoir section (which is maybe 2-3km long), is really quite dull, all little winding roads that are not the most fun to run or walk on. Given the choice again, I’d cut the route short at the far end of Cruagh, and visit Bornabreena another time. The roadside bit through Glencullen was busier than you’d like, too, even on a weekday. Only notable refueling stops are at about 15km in, in Glencullen, then you’re pretty much on your own.

Thoughts: This had been on my list of things to do this year (yes, I have one!), and was helpfully opened up to me by the combination of a very helpful wife, on pick up and drop off, and the opening up of the whole of County Dublin in the recent change to coronavirus restrictions. There’s no denying this is at the limit of what I’m capable of at the moment – it’s fairly comparable to the Wicklow trail run I did from Bray last year, though without quite as much elevation, and I definitely ran more of it, especailly towards the end.

Realistically, I need to be doing more things in the mountain and get more comfortable moving across rugged trails with uneven surfaces to get any better at this, but it was a really great experience, and I found I was only minorly hampered by having to carry a small bag with 1.5 litres of water, food, and other essentials in it.

The route is billed as a ‘1-3 day’ on the official website, but it’s definitely walkable inside a (long) day, and with a bit of jogging, within a shorter one. I was familiar with a lot of the spots – we’re regulars in Tibradden and Carrickgollagan, and less so in Cruagh and Ticknock, but I knew a few kms of the full route before heading out, which definitely made life easier. Maps recommended, though I only really consulted them two or three times just to check I hadn’t missed exits. There are signposts marking the whole way at either end.



Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 77

TheJournal.ie announces no new deaths for the first time in 65 days

Monday, May 25 was the first day in 65 long days that saw no deaths whatsoever from coronavirus in Ireland, and as a result, one of my happiest in lockdown so far.

Of course, I realise people die all the time, for all kinds of reasons, and most of them never get anywhere near the news. The thing is the potential death toll of coronavirus, which is massive. The first day with no deaths felt like a major breakthrough.

The day after, we were back to 9 deaths in the day, but with the lowest ‘new cases’ figure since way back in March, at just 37. Things really do seem to be toning down.

The shutdown is still strict ( at least if you’re following guidelines), but there are also opportunities to do a little more. I’ve started adding a few toys to the shop every ten days or so that we can fit into a trip to the park, and lift Adam’s spirits. On Monday, I was able to go to the Teelings Distillery coffee shop down the road for a takeaway latte and a cake, and there was no one else in there apart from the man who served me. Honestly, it felt like an almost unimaginable luxury.

Clearly there are a lot of hoops still to jump through. Ireland is in stage one of a five-stage loosening of restrictions which will see us slowly allowed to do more every three weeks. Each little relaxation is a step towards a normality that in some senses still feels a long way off, but in others is creeping far closer than it felt just a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve become an obsessive ‘number watcher’. Not a day goes by when I don’t check exactly what the new numbers for corona cases are, and how Ireland compares in its trajectory to countries that are thought to be countering things well (South Korea, for example), and those who are almost out of control (the US, Brazil). It’s a horrible but compulsive watch.

I like the loose sense of normality. There’s a feeling we might be working from home, at least, until late summer, but at least there’s a little more freedom. Hopefully, those numbers keep sliding.

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 68

There have been less than 100 new cases of coronavirus each day for the last two days, the first time the figures have been that low since this time in March, shortly after this whole thing started.

As of today, we’re allowed to go to hardware stores (we’re not actually going, because it seems crazy on the first day), and to meet in isolated groups from different households a few metres apart.

It’s starting to feel like things are on the turn, if not necessarily anywhere close to an ending, then at least progressing towards things being just that little bit better. Of course, that comes with the fear that the changes lead to far more widespread infection, and things pick up again.

The hardest thing about all this is probably that it’s indefinite. There are certain things you start ‘waiting’ for, from social drinks, to doing some work that involves a proper level of collaboration, in a normal office, to being able to return to swimming pools, for example, or football matches (those last two seem, sadly, a very, very long way off).

Predictably, there are campaigns against any level of shutdown. I think it stems in part from a certain group of people being absolutely convinced anything a government does must be wrong, regardless of what it is. There are huge conspiracy theories, which in my opinion fall utterly flat for the very obvious reason that getting all world governments to collaborate and act in largely comparable ways simply won’t happen, they disagree fundamentally. Plus, these are clearly a lot of people dying, and these type of people see a conspiracy in whatever is happening, regardless of what it is.

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 56

It’s hard not to be sweepingly negative in these posts, but things are going a little better, so I’m going to try and act like it. Restrictions eased yesterday in Ireland for the first time – every measure before now has been a tightening. The change allows us to travel 5kms from home, instead of 2kms. It’s not a huge change, but it does bring Phoenix Park back into play for us, and we’re grateful for that. Things genuinely seem to be slowing down, in terms of both cases, deaths and critical cases. It’s becoming more a question of how to go back to normal

For later, when I read back, I thought I’d talk about some of the themes of the lockdown so far, from my perspective. Here’s what’s been important personally, whilst simultaneously being utterly unimportant in a wider context, such is life: