The International Rules Series returns this week with the first of two test matches between Ireland and Australia taking place in the early hours on Sunday morning.
The 5am throw-in will see Ireland line out without any Dublin players, although some of the best Gaelic footballers in the country will still be involved.
The Aussies have had a few players opt out but it will still be a battle over the two test matches in Adelaide and Perth to determine who takes home the Cormac McAnallen Cup.
It has been two years since the last International Rules Series ended in a narrow Irish victory and no doubt the Aussies will be seeking revenge, particularly given their home advantage. They have selected a strong side which includes some AFL stars such as Patrick Dangerfield and Eddie Betts.
A total of fourteen different counties are represented in the Irish squad which will be captained by Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea and managed by former Armagh’s Joe Kernan.
Both sides possess quality footballers, terrific ball winners and supreme athletes, all of which should provide for an absorbing and competitive series.
And yet, enthusiasm for the International Rules series has been on the wane for some time and this encounter has failed to stir up excitement in either country.
International Rules football is a clumsy negotiation between two very different sports that resulted in a compromised game and one which has failed to entice supporters of either code.
For the Australians, it is a matter of getting used to a round ball, a ball that bounces differently to their oval one, that requires a different style of kicking and that bounces far too predictably for their liking.
Worse still, they have to get their head around the use of a goalkeeper.
Ireland, meanwhile, have far fewer alterations to concern themselves. They even get credit for decent wides.
This will be the 20th Series between Ireland and Australia but there is real concern that the games in Australia will be as poorly supported as the last test at Croke Park was, with just 28,525 attending headquarters.
Of course, it hasn’t always been this way. In 2006 a capacity crowd packed into Croke Park to witness a vicious encounter in which Graham Geraghty was forced off after a horrific tackle from Danyle Pearce left him unconscious.
The 2006 Series was characterised by high hits, low blows and, on occasion, some football. Sean Boylan famously lamented the “thuggery” he had just witnessed in his post-match interview.
And yet, it represented the apex of the sport’s popularity precisely because of the obscene violence and bad blood that existed between the teams.
Despite its popularity among supporters, however, both the GAA and AFL agreed that something needed to be done to reduce the risk of serious injury.
Gone are the 30 man scuffles and ten-a-penny punch-up’s that once characterised the game, to be replaced by handshakes and basic sportsmanship.
It is rather unfortunate that the introduction of civility to the game correlates exactly with our declining interest in it.
The International Rules Series should be our version of the Ashes. It should be a hotly anticipated contest between two rivals and a celebration of our native games. There should be packed bars and stadiums as well as a sense of anticipation in the hours leading up to the game.
But those things aren’t there. The novelty has long since worn off this decades-old experiment and the public is unmoved. According to the latest reports, a mere 10,000 tickets have been sold for the first match in the Adelaide Oval.
Even if that amount were to treble between now and throw in it will still represent a poor showing for a contest that could once draw almost three times the amount of spectators.
There is always speculation over the future of this series. Is it on its last legs? Can it be saved?
Only time will tell.
Kevin Boyle, Pundit Arena
Check out the latest episode of The 16th Man where we previewed the first test between Ireland and Australia.