AS ever, sport has given us the usual mixture of flair and fury over the last few days.
The flair is what we watch it for. (Did you see that Zlatan Ibrahimovic wonder-goal the other night?) The fury - let's say Sir Alex Ferguson's remarks about Roy Keane in his new autobiography - is the stuff with which we fill the time between games. Now and again, though, we get reminders that sport also exists in a world beyond entertainment.
Yaya Toure's angry, impassioned response to the racist monkey chanting in Moscow on Wednesday night was one, but less reported was a speech by Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson last week in which he hailed the contribution made to the peace process by the Gaelic Athletic Association.
This was, as he himself admitted, something he wouldn't have said even a few years ago.
During the Troubles, Unionist politicians suggested the GAA was effectively "the IRA at play" in the wake of the black-flag demonstrations at Gaelic football games during the hunger strikes. Sport in Northern Ireland - like everywhere else, let's face it - has always been political.
And yet despite the depressing familiarity of this year's flag protests in the province, Mr Robinson's speech is another symbol of the halting, painfully slow progression of the peace process. Of course, in Northern Ireland it's usually one step forward, two steps back. Those Unionists who criticised Mr Robinson's words in the days that followed were handed extra ammunition in the comments of GAA TV pundit Joe Brolly a few days later when he rejected criticisms of his hometown hurling club in Dungiven continuing to be named after Republican hunger striker Kevin Lynch as a "sideshow" and "nobody's business".
What the name is, actually, is an easy stick for some Unionists to continue to beat the GAA with, despite all that the organisation has done to try to change attitudes.
However, in a week when even Ian Paisley of all people has revealed in a new book, Alternative Ulsters, that he calls himself an Irishman these days, it's important to recognise that for all the demonstrations and ongoing dissident activity, Northern Ireland is a different country these days. Not a perfect country. Not a settled country by any means. But not as murderously dysfunctional as it was a generation ago.
Sport has always been a lightning post for divisions in the north - as it also is in Glasgow at times, of course - but there are moments when it unites as well. Last weekend in Belfast, Carl Frampton, a boy from the loyalist Tiger's Bay area, beat France's Jeremy Parodi. There were reportedly loyalist songs sung on the night. But fans from both communities were there to cheer on the boxer managed by Barry McGuigan, another man who knows about transcending the sectarian divide.
I grew up in a Protestant family in Northern Ireland but many of my sporting heroes - from McGuigan to footballer Gerry Armstrong - were Catholics. Hopefully in years to come, Frampton can become as much a hero to some of Northern Ireland's Catholics as George Best and Alex Higgins once were.
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