“It was interesting that the editors of this collection - they are American, UK based - and the responses we were getting as we were sending in drafts that it was so different to anything else that they were encountering in any other national context,” NUIG academic Dr Seán Crosson says about a study compiled alongside Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick lecturer Dr Marcus Free.
‘This Too Shall Pass’: Gaelic Games, Irish Media, and the Covid-19 Lockdown in Ireland, is part of a new collection which examines the impact of the pandemic on sport in a broad range of themes.
Providing an overview of the immediate consequences of the initial Covid lockdown, Dr Crosson and Dr Free reflect on a remarkable period.
“It is a bigger project than this one piece,” Dr Crosson reveals. “What you will find in the article is our first of what will probably be three studies. This one is looking at the first lockdown. So basically the first part of the first lockdown from March to June.
“A call came from an American publisher called Common Ground. who were putting together a collection. It is an international collection on the impact of the Covid pandemic on sport. In response to that they are doing two collections.
“One is global responses which looks at the impact on a global level of major sporting organisations and major sports. The second one which we are involved in is national responses.
“In that you have responses from 15 or 16 different countries, everywhere from Brazil to Taiwan to Japan to Australia, the US, and other European countries. We are in there with regard to Gaelic Games and the impact of the first lockdown.
“We took what they call a media discourse analysis. We looked at media discourses, the media responses - how that progressed over that period. What were the major themes within it? That is what you will find in that study.”
Ultimately what Dr Crosson and Dr Free discovered in the sporting realm was that Ireland differed to many other countries.
“The most obvious thing and most people in Ireland are aware, the most popular and followed sports in Ireland are amateur sports,” Dr Crossan remarks.
“That is extremely rare. They are amateur sports that are really embedded within local communities in a very powerful and important way in Ireland. I guess the time that becomes most evident is when there are crises of one type or another.
“Those who have been involved in a GAA club as I have been growing up coming from Cavan originally, you realise for example when there is tragedy in a community - deaths - how the local club is a key component in how people remember, how people mark those moments.
“Equally during the pandemic, the local clubs, tens maybe hundreds of thousands of volunteers across the country in the GAA became centrally involved in how local communities came to terms with the huge impact at a local level of the pandemic. Whether it was supporting people isolating, raising funds - we talk about each of those in the article, for people in the community - who were suffering and needed support.”
So practically how did Dr Crosson and Dr Free work on the project? “For the print and online media in general we were using a service called Lexus Nexus an academic service which gathers most of the print and online media,” Dr Crosson explains.
“Of course we were following those services ourselves in terms of the dailies and regionals.”
Further in depth studies are continuing in this area according to Dr Crosson. “The article is part of a much larger and ongoing research project,” he adds.
“We were looking at national newspapers, regional newspapers, then we were looking at Off The Ball which was really important in terms of its commentary and engagement with sport during the crisis.
“RTE, too - the title of the paper of itself - 'This Too Shall Pass' -is from a really quite moving video promo for The Sunday Game that was released in May just before the first episode. We bookmarked our study at that point.”
Indeed the defiance of sporting organisations to bring some semblance of normality through playing games matters deeply.
“We are working on the second part now including the Bloody Sunday commemoration,” Dr Crosson states. “I thought that was a really powerful moment. It was very directly and clearly connected with the ongoing Covid crisis.
“It was very evident in the fact that it was in an empty stadium which brought an additional level of intensity to the occasion.
“In the discourse around it, the way in which that event was introduced when it was being relayed through RTE it was being done very much being placed in a context that this is a critical moment of remembrance, of overcoming. Perhaps this was one of the greatest and most horrific tragedies associated with Gaelic Games.
“The process of overcoming and remembering that tragedy is important as an inspiration for us right now in terms of the current challenge we are trying to overcome.”
Combining Dr Crosson’s passion for sport and film with Dr Free’s specialist subject, media studies, both researchers are involved in NUIG’s Sport and Exercise Research Group.
Currently the sports media landscape is brimful of opportunities with different approaches being adopted by various outlets.
“Absolutely, it is a golden age not just in Ireland, but internationally,” Dr Crosson responds. “You have The Athletic journal which has brought back the long form of sports journalism, that is fantastic to see.
“It does reflect a broader interest in an appreciation of sport - Off The Ball and Second Captains has been great in this respect, how they have emphasised and broadened the understanding and relevance of sport.”
That is critical with Dr Crosson believing that sports journalism can raise pertinent questions about societal issues.
“How sport becomes a metaphor and more than a metaphor for larger things and a way into discussing larger themes and larger subjects,” Dr Crosson comments.
“In Ireland, in particular, there is a huge interest in sport. Also sport is more than just the sport, it is about what is going on around sport.
“The way sport can provide a starting point for conversations for engagements perhaps with more important issues and even in some cases life and death issues which we talked about in terms of the pandemic.
“This has been very evident in terms of what has happened with Off The Ball and the long form journalism, the leading sports journalists how they can bring us to places and topics that sport will provide a way into. There are still much, much deeper and more serious issues being addressed.”
Dr Crosson and Dr Free’s ‘This Too Shall Pass’ examination deals with the severe Covid impact. The full gamut of emotions have been experienced by sports enthusiasts, who crave the joy and sense of adventure matches supply. Hope remains a companion, and those cherished days will return.