Coronavirus. A Diary Part 1

Saturday 21st March 2020

It was Sunday the 7th March when I first realised that this situation could be really serious. I had listened to the stories about the coronavirus coming out of China and Italy and while it was horrific it was far away. It was backround noise.

I was getting on with my life. I went to Dr Hyde Park to a Ladies National League game between Roscommon and Kildare. On the way to the match and on RTE Radio 1 some of the panellists referred to a story that was on the Sunday Business Post which claimed that 1.9 million Irish people would get the virus. I said out loud “whoever wrote that story should be locked up for scaring people” however a senior doctor in the HSE said shortly afterwards that “he couldn’t dispute those figures” I sat in the car at the back of the stand in Hyde Park in shock. Was I sure that I had heard that right?

Only Ian Cooney of the Roscommon Herald was in the Press Box and I told him what I had heard. We both couldn’t believe it. This was going to be serious stuff. Little did I know how serious.

As the following week progressed so did the gravity of the situation. Going into work every day at Midlands103 I quickly realised that as a self-employed sports reporter I was on borrowed time. At a time like this sport is not important.

When Leo Varadkar made his speech from Washington at 11am on Thursday 12th March I watched in the Newsroom at Midlands103. There were a number of people there. As he spoke I knew my job was gone, at least temporarily. Schools and colleges were to close and all non-essential activity was to come to a halt. That meant sport. No sport – no job.

Three of my four daughters were on their way home. All are in college, one in Germany, one in Leeds, and one in Galway. I was thrilled that they would be at home. My fourth daughter (and eldest) lives in Vancouver.
On Friday the 13th (yeah I know), when I had finished my shift, I got the news that I was expecting. I went to chat to Will Faulkner (station manager) and the News Editor Sinead Hubble. My job had gone until the emergency was over.
I was two and a half years working at the station. I really loved my job and the people there were friendly and easy to work with. I shall miss it surely but hopefully I will be back some day. I have a feeling that it might be later rather than sooner.

When I came home I watched the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It was like being in a parallel universe. I was watching 70,000 people whoop it up in the Cotswolds while I had just lost my job. To have allowed Cheltenham go ahead was sheer madness. The UK are going to pay a big price for the lax attitude towards this crisis.

People would also know that I play a bit of music in local pubs from time to time. The new ‘social distancing’ rules would mean there would be no one in the pubs. No people, no pubs, no music. It was another blow.
I have worked in the Roscommon People newspaper for over 13 years. I have been very proud of what we had achieved in terms of quality on a small free newspaper. Surely a business that depended solely on the support of it’s advertisers would be under pressure. It was another worry.

Then on Monday 15th March it was announced that the pubs would be closing. With every passing day the situation was getting more serious. The death tolls in Italy and Spain were spiralling, and action had to be taken here.
We brought out the Roscommon People as usual and I did a number of articles detailing the effect that the virus would have on sport. I also picked my best ever Roscommon team in an effort to generate some debate. I was hopeful that the paper would be able to keep going at least for a few weeks but those hopes were dashed by the end of the week.

On St Patrick’s Night, I watched Leo Varakdar’s address on TV. It was a superb speech and showed fantastic leadership. He sugar-coated nothing and yet he gave people hope in a dire situation. It was just what the country wanted. I would have been a major critic of Leo over the years and of Simon Harris too. But since this emergency has come about both men and Simon Coveney have been excellent and have done the country proud.

The following day Joe Brolly lambasted Leo for his speech. I like a lot of the stuff that Joe writes about the GAA, but he can be a fierce asshole. His total bias towards Sinn Fein came bursting through in his criticism. We don’t need that sort of stuff at this time. Leave it for normal times would be my view.

There is one upside to the situation. I have been out walking every day since this emergency started. I have plenty of time on my hands. I have a weight loss target. It would be fantastic to reach it. There is no pub and no pints either which helps.

As the week progressed the daily news briefings from the HSE and the Government revealed the rising number of cases here. Over 24,000 answered the call to come and help out the HSE in their efforts to combat and treat the virus. I registered but am not a health professional. I would help out in whatever way I could. I have heard nothing since.
On Friday evening 20th March I got the call I was dreading from Paul Healy. Advertising had collapsed, there was no news except about coronavirus, no sport, no social events. There was only one choice he had and that was to lay off temporarily the staff he had in the office.

I have to admit that I was very upset when I finished that call. Now, for the first time since I was 18 years of age I had no work. I admit I shed tears. It was hard to take in the enormity of what was happening.
Of course by far the most important thing to me is the health of my wife Teresa and my family but in the space of a week this virus has swept away all my income.

Paul and Fiona Healy are as fine a people as one could meet. They are good employers, very nice people and I know that they did not make this decision lightly. Many small businesses will be another casualty of this bloody virus!
I realise that we just have to get on with it and do what we are being told to do, but the fear of the unknown is the most unsettling thing. We really don’t know how bad it is going to get. or when it might be over.

On Friday night I watched a Sky News report from Italy where the situation in the North of the country is so bad that their health service just cannot cope with the number of people needing hospital treatment and the numbers who are dying. It sent a shiver down my spine.

The Late Late Show featured Dr Tony Holohan of the HSE who was calm measured and very straight talking. We are in such a serious situation. Pascal Donohue did his best but he is like the rest of us. He hasn’t a clue what’s going to happen.

Here in Ireland we have to do what we are being told to do. The stories of loved ones passing away on their own with no one around them is heart breaking. I hope and pray that does not happen to anyone reading this.

I know I’m not on my own with regard to work but it is an added worry to what is an already disastrous situation. We can only focus on trying to stay well and hopefully we will all have a tale to tell when this passes.

The next couple of months will see an unprecedented situation here in this country and all over the world. We just have to try and keep calm and try to ride out the storm.

Stay Safe People.

Part 2

Tuesday 24th March 2020

By this stage you would think that most people would be used to the new ‘normal’ but as each day passes this crisis throws up new challenges, new stories and new realities.

I know that it’s not really important, but on Sunday at about half past two I was saying “We should be in Breffni Park now watching Roscommon and Cavan” But none of us can do what used to do and that situation will apply for another few weeks at least.

Sport is my life and it’s what I have done for over 30 years. Now that has come to a shuddering halt. The fields are empty, the stands are quiet and the commentators have put down their microphones the reporters’ lap tops have been put away.

Some radio stations like Newstalk have attempted to keep it going but you get the feeling that it’s ‘talking about sport for the sake of it’ They are filling time and as this crisis goes on it will get more difficult. The fact that sport really doesn’t matter in the bigger scheme of things means that there is even less interest in it than usual.

There are programmes speculating as to what might happen later in the year in all sports and frankly these are a total waste of time because no one has a clue as to when things might return to normal.

But there is an upside. A daily walk is not something that I have been doing. In the past year I was trying to do more exercise but sometimes it was hard to get the time to do it. Now I can pick my time and head off. It is certainly helping me to sleep better! I would recommend it.

There are also jobs that needed to be done at home in terms of clearing out presses and desks that have been tackled. It’s amazing the amount of rubbish that one can accumulate over the years.

In terms of the TV and the radio I am trying to restrict my ‘coronavirus -intake’ to an hour a day. It’s important to know what’s going on but to watch too much about it is certainly not good for one’s mental health.
But make no mistake, these are grim times. The uncertainty of what the future holds is the biggest fear. No one knows how bad this will get and when it might ease off or end.

I have started watching the series ‘Narcos’ and am confining myself to one episode per day which I am enjoying. I am also writing every day although it might never see the light of day!

Picking out great teams and games from the past is also a good way of passing the time and it is great for generating arguments and opinion. Hopefully we can have those arguments in person when this is all over.

It would appear that the level of testing here in Ireland is increasing and that’s a good thing. We have to know the extent of the problem that we have. My heart goes out to all the health professionals who are dealing with this virus every day and putting themselves in harms’ way.

The most difficult this for me is getting used to not having any work to go to. I still get up early and try to maintain some kind of discipline. Most of the family are here at home so at least that’s a good thing.

We are lucky to be living in rural Ireland and the authorities are doing a very good job in trying to deal with this virus. When you look at how this has been handles by Donald Trump and Boris Johnson you realise how lucky we are.

I have found one solace over the past few days and that is to chat to friends as much as you can. Call them up and talk. We all have time on our hands. People are feeling lonely and anxious and it is amazing what a few minutes on the phone can do . We have to stay talking to each other.

They say that the real peak here in this country will happen in the next two weeks or so. We all hope and pray that it will not be too severe and that the health service can cope.

Stay Safe People

Part 3

Friday 27th March 2020

It’s been two weeks since Leo made his speech from Washington and what a difference there has been in those two weeks. The number of cases here continues to rise and hopefully within the next two weeks we will know how bad it will be here in Ireland. Maybe we will have reached the peak by then.

It is a very tough time for many people and we are all worried. But if we do the right thing hopefully things will go ok in the long run.

Let’s accentuate the positives first of all. It would appear that the vast majority of people in Ireland are observing the rules and if that’s the case a lot of lives will be saved and a lot of people will not get this virus.

The weather has been good too which is a blessing. It means that we can go out for a walk and do a bit of exercise. I am not a gardener but many people are now able to tidy up and appreciate growing vegetables and tending to lawns and hedges and flower beds.

The biggest positive that I can see is that cars and clothes and holidays and money and the various status symbols that were seemingly so important in our world are not really important at all. This virus is no respecter of age or status or wealth. It has struck with equal force all over the World.

The real heroes are not the Kardashians or ‘Social Influencers’ or pop stars. The people we look up to are not sports stars or actors or business tycoons. The people who matter are our family, and doctors and nurses and all health professionals, shop workers and lorry drivers who are keeping the supply lines open and the thousands of volunteers around the country who are helping out in these times of huge uncertainty.

Having said the above I have to say that what I miss most is being able to go for a pint and chat to people. We were not meant to be alone in this world and while it is brilliant to have the family at home during this emergency, interaction with friends is something I miss. Chatting on the phone is great but it’s not the same. But it’s a small price to pay for a few months.

I also have to admit that I really miss sport. Not having that Football or Hurling match to look forward to or argue about, not having Match of the Day to watch or the Six Nations Rugby. The American Golf at the weekends, Horse Racing etc etc. I could go on and on.

But maybe there might be a silver lining at the end of all of this. The TV companies who run most professional sport will lose a fortune as the advertising market falls off the end of a cliff. Maybe the whole of professional sport will be re-calibrated. Maybe we will have seen the end of Soccer players getting half a million Euro per week. Maybe we will have seen the end of Golfers ‘earning’ 3 million dollars for one tournament. …….Maybe…. we can all dream

The GAA will be ok. The club scene will return and even if there is no inter-county championship this summer at all, we can all return to our roots in August and enjoy the club championship.

I’m passing the time by doing a bit of writing, a bit of exercise and a tidy up at home. It’s amazing how much rubbish that one can collect up over the years!

There are times when this whole situation is overwhelming. The key is to try and not dwell on it too much. I’m no different to anyone else and what will await us all when this is over is anyone’s guess. Look ahead two or three months to when our lives can return to normal. It’s the best we can do. We will take it from there.

I would be very worried about what’s going to happen in the UK and the USA. I know that we have to look after ourselves here in Ireland but both those countries are so closely linked with this country.

The people in both countries will pay dearly for the incredibly lax attitude of their leaders when it comes to dealing with this pandemic. I hope and pray that there are not mass casualties and deaths in both countries. It’s not looking good at this stage.

I am convinced if we do what we are told here in this country then the pain and misery brought about by this terrible disease will be minimised for everyone.

Stay safe people and keep the chin up!

Part 4

Monday 30th March 2020

When all this started we were looking ahead to the end of this month as a time when we would know where this virus was heading for. Now we know that if things are clearer by the end of April we will be lucky. It might be the end of May or even June.

The much stricter restrictions on personal freedoms here in this country came in on Friday last, and as far as I can see those new rules are being complied with by the vast majority. However I wouldn’t really know as I am going for a walk every day and that’s it.

But I am getting a sense that what the authorities are doing here may be working, Leo told us a few weeks ago that there could be 15,000 cases here by the end of the month. The last day of the month is tomorrow and so far there have been 2,635 cases. That has to be positive. I know it’s no consolation to anyone who has lost loved ones or whose relations are in intensive care but the figures are encouraging.

My heart goes out to young people as this crisis goes on. It’s absolutely no reflection on Mums and Dads, but the younger set need their friends. They are so important to them. Now they are only communicating on their phones and lap tops. These things may not seem that important in the overall bigger picture but it is important to them so we must cut them a little slack at this time and make allowances. They know that it is people who are much older that are in trouble with this virus. Most are very understanding. Let’s keep them onside.

Writing stuff like this and other bits and pieces keeps my mind off what’s going on for a while at least and I would advise restricting people’s intake of ‘coronavirus news’ to an hour a day at most. It’s far too grim to watch or listen to any more than that.

At least the weather has been good and you can go for a walk and take a bit of exercise in comfort.

But on the down side I found Saturday a very difficult day. Three people that I had known well passed away on Saturday. One of them was former Rocommon footballer Conor Connelly. My phone rang non-stop all day long. People didn’t know what to do.

One thing we do well in this country (or at least we did up to now) is funerals. People rally around those closest to the deceased and from first-hand experience it helps enormously to have family and friends there to share the grief. People calling to the house, the removal, funeral mass, and burial give huge solace to the family at a very difficult time. But now all that has been taken away which is incredibly sad. I spoke to many people last Saturday who were distraught and very upset. These were ordinary people who were friends and colleagues of the deceased in all cases.. I can only try to imagine what the families are going through. Please remember them in your prayers.

The sudden death of Conor Connelly puts everything in perspective for me. He was a great footballer but a lovely guy off the field. Only three weeks ago at Tom Lyons’ party in Roscommon Golf Club I chatted to Conor and he was in great form. He was just 44 year old. It’s a devastating blow to his family. To Claire and children and to Nora and Jimmy all I can do is offer my deepest sympathy. He brought us much joy when he played for Roscommon.

There are other families who are being affected by the death of loved ones at this terrible time. My heart goes out to them.

I have been to the shop to buy the paper this morning. The Irish Independent today is the smallest paper that I have seen in years. The papers are struggling along with all other businesses.

Sporting events seem so far away now. I found a huge box of match programmes at home. Some are mine, some belonged to my brothers Frank and Declan and the rest were collected by my late father. I decided to go through them and put some of the more interesting teams online over the past week or so. The feedback I have received has taken me aback to be honest. The interest in it has been huge. I will keep at it until I have exhausted the collection. Thanks for all the positive comments.

We have to keep doing what they are telling us to do. We may not be out of the wood on Easter Sunday, or for a long time after that but hopefully there is a brighter future ahead. We have got to believe that. If you can, please stay positive, and keep in touch with each other. We might have to settle for the phone right now. but keep talking!

Stay Safe People!