A new year often brings with it renewed optimism. And after the year that has just passed we need that more than ever. Never has a year so jolted the masses into an appreciation of what is most important in life; that of course being life itself, especially of one’s loved ones.

Covid-19 came sweeping across the globe and changed everything so utterly that things may never be the same again. And they should not be, if we are to learn the lessons that need to be learned.

Those on the frontline of the NHS have rightly been proclaimed as heroes. Of course, they were heroes long before Covid-19 hit, and it would serve us all well to remember that in these parts the NHS has been chronically underfunded for years. We should recall that just weeks before the pandemic reached these shore our nurses, for good reason, were striking. And they were not striking for claps of a Thursday night.

As the chinks of light offered by the vaccine begin to illuminate the gloom, we should perhaps promise that in the future we will prioritise the most vulnerable in society and, indeed, the services that care for them.

The above is all rather political for a sports column and no doubt belongs more towards the front of the newspaper, but if we have learned anything from the past year it is that all facets of life are intertwined and that in a crisis we have a remarkable ability to come together and forget all about what we perceive might divide us.

The GAA, like so many community groups, has played, and continue to play, a stormer throughout this pandemic. The very best in altruism and common humanity is on show and the GAA are right in the thick of it.

As spring meandered into summer the playing of sport was the last thing on our mind but incredibly we saw a full inter county season played out, with the majority of club championships also played to a finish. A hat tip in acknowledgement to the frustrations felt by Coa and Derrylin in our county as they wait for their final to be played.

All in all, though, it was a marvel that there was so much ball played. We mentioned earlier how 2020 should act as a reminder of those most important things in life. It also should prick us into appreciating the smaller things in life too. The feel of grass beneath our boots. The thump of a well struck O’Neills. The joy of supporting your team and seeing them leave their all on the field. The comradery felt during competition.

2020 saw many teams quench a long held thirst for success. Ederney in Fermanagh swept all aside to deservedly end a famine of a half century in the making. They rid themselves of the bridesmaid dress and donned full veil as they so comprehensively put Derrygonnelly to the sword.

The success of Cavan in the Ulster Championship was joyous to behold. Winning four games on the bounce including a memorable final against Donegal lifted the spirit of every underdog as we cheered from our chairs and sofas. The depth of feeling felt by the Cavan men as they spoke of that win betrayed their raw emotion. Voices broke and tears forced their way through as they were asked to do put into words what it all meant. It was an impossible task in many ways.

The sort of success achieved by Cavan after 23 years of waiting for an Ulster title, and what it meant to the county is not something that can be easily put into words. I imagine that it is something only one can fell.

It was felt in Munster too, as Tipperary did the unthinkable to win a provincial title. Wearing the green and white jerseys to commemorate Bloody Sunday there was something very poignant about their win. Another victory to see the spirits soar.

Looking back on those victories now what stands out most is that they were so deserved. There was no luck. In fact both games should have been won by more.

There are of course some who will point to heavy All Ireland semi-final defeats suffered by both teams as evidence that their provincial success was somehow tainted. But such musings belong to the curmudgeons among us. Such folk, I suspect, would like to see an All-Ireland played out among the six teams they deem worthy enough to compete. At least that is what their warped logic implies.

No, no, no; let 2020 be a year where we all garnered some renewed hope, on all fronts. Let us all dream a little.

For the GAA faithful here in Fermanagh it is good to dream of that Anglo Celt. I used to think its sentimentality got in the way of what we needed to do in order to actually achieve it. I was wrong. Of course dreaming it of itself won’t deliver that tangible reward, but the dream can be powerful ally too.

We have a responsibility really, to those who have aspirations of pulling on that green jersey and taking their shot at immortality. We must keep the hope alive for them. Hope that the unfathomable feeling that was the reward of Tipp and Cavan will one day be fathomed by ourselves.

Before finishing let’s return to what is most important. 2020 is over but the pandemic is not. As we have mentioned before the vaccine is offering chinks of light. As time goes on we hope the chinks turn into streams and that eventually the light of normality will return. When it does let us make a better future.