EVEN though the season is still in its infancy, and despite hectic activity, the introduction of the inside ‘mark’ in football hasn’t had the desired impact, so far.
It was introduced as part of a package aimed at improving a game that has many critics because of an ultra-defensive approach and over-use of the hand-pass, among other ills.
The central thinking is to encourage the foot-pass more by giving players effectively a free-play by catching a ball kicked from outside the opposing 45m line and travelling a minimum of 20m.
There was confusion at the start over what actually constituted a ‘mark’ because players appeared to be stopping without raising an arm to indicate their intentions.
There was added confusion, when referees either failed to blow the whistle to award the ‘mark’ or blew before the player had raised his arm.
CIT’s most welcome return to the Sigerson Cup next season, following their Trench Cup triumph, provided more evidence of the uncertainty surrounding the rule.
In the first-half of the final against Mary Immaculate College a couple of CIT players were awarded ‘marks’ by the referee despite not having signalled.
Yet, there was one outstanding moment during the second-half which graphically illustrated its benefits.
It stemmed from a long punt in the direction of Cathail O’Mahony, the outstanding performer in the Limerick students’ side and the scorer of some glorious long-range points.
One of the heroes of last year’s All-Ireland U20 success, O’Mahony made a spectacular catch under pressure and still had the presence of mind to signal a ‘mark’.
It would have led to a routine point, but dissent provided an even easier kick in front of the posts after the referee brought the ball forward.
Cork’s three league outings have produced few incidents of the mark which is probably down to the time of year with inclement weather spoiling attempts to introduce it to the group.
It was touched on by Ciarán Sheehan during his post-match chat following the victory over Down recently.
“The inside mark could be an important weapon for us though we haven’t really tapped into that yet.
“We’ll work on that in training and see if we can use it to our advantage.
“But, there were a couple of areas we wanted to focus in on before looking at the mark.
“We’ve done a bit of work on it in training and we see it as an opportunity.
“I’ve not seen it used much in the other games I’ve watched and I don’t know if teams are really working on it.
“We’ve a number of tall, strong forwards, like Colm O’Callaghan coming in off the bench, Ruairí Deane and Ian Maguire drift in from time to time,” he said.
In some respects it will take a different approach from the current keep-ball-at-all-costs thinking, which seems to have engulfed the sport at most levels.
For one thing there’s a high risk attached because of the chance of turning possession over, especially as the intended target is sure to be closely monitored.
But, it has the potential to be quite rewarding if a goal accrues from it, particularly in a high-profile game with the TV cameras functioning.
As for club players, it’s way too early in the season to pass judgment and will take plenty of practice sessions and examples in games before any verdict.
Other rule alterations included an attempt to cut down on the short kick-out by keepers.
They are now taken from the 20m line instead of the 13m line and the ball must travel forward with all players a minimum of 13m away, outside the D and 20m away, when the kick is taken.
As with the mark, it has taken a while for this to bed down after hesitant custodians struggled with the changes.
The exercise is to try and encourage kicks to travel out around the middle, where high-fielders can try and execute a clean catch, earning another ‘mark’ in the process.
The introduction of the sin-bin seems to have passed off without any major squabbling, even if it’s early in the year.