Winter and spring gaelic football rarely teaches us much about how the game is played but it often provides a fascinating glimpse into the culture of the sport. By far the interesting story to emerge over the winter and through the League is the pretty startling divide between footballers in the Republic and those over the border. The Derrytresk brawl, the Ciaran McKeever British b******s mess, and last weekend's Joe Brolly column show the growing strain between the two football cultures. I'm sure we'll eventually hear news from HQ of thinktanks and committees to address the problem, but thinking purely as a sports fan, I can't think that an opportunity is being lost here. Wouldn't an annual Northern Ireland v the Republic, featuring the best XV players from both sides of the border, be the ultimate gaelic football spectacle of every year?
I'm all for an 32 counties All-Ireland championship (with New York and London) but it seems to be that the GAA is missing an opportunity by ignoring that the cultural divide the border inevitably creates. I'll never forget driving up from Kerry on the morning of the 2008 All-Ireland final and listening to outrightly dismissive talk not just of Tyrone, but of Northern teams. They were spoken of as a foreign species. A big annual match (it could rotate between Croker and Casement) would admittedly do nothing productive for building cross-border unity and solidarity, but it would inevitably be the hardest-fought match of every year. The GAA fan is asked to endure so many terrible exhibition matches (International Rules, the Railway Cup) when a mouthwatering football match is right at our doorstep. Joe Brolly may be being deliberately provocative when he writes the 'Northmen, Southmen, comrades all my arse' line, but is there anyone who would really deny the reality of that divide? Why not let the tensions out once every October and leave it at that? Were it played today, I have no clue which side would win, and that idea alone, I feel, outweighs whatever awkwardness, logistical and practical (it would have to be flag-free, for one), the match would cause. As a pure football spectacle, it would be incredible.