New advanced mark rule will encourage more kick-passing in GAA

New advanced mark rule will encourage more kick-passing in GAA
Niall Darby of Offaly in action against Michael Hurley of Cork. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

IN THE very first analysis clip on RTÉ’s League Sunday last weekend, Sean Cavanagh and Kevin McStay spoke about the Galway footballers’ change of style under new manager Padraic Joyce.

They showed a batch of long kick-passes into the full-forward line that generally ended with a score, Robert Finnerty’s goal came from a clever booted pre-assist by Shane Walsh and this shift in emphasis was presented as a positive. Factors here include a perception of slow attacking previously under Kevin Walsh and Joyce having been such a lovely kick-passer himself and Galway’s tradition. Remember Paul Clancy’s kick-pass assist for that Declan Meehan All-Ireland final goal?

Galway manager Padraic Joyce. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Galway manager Padraic Joyce. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

David Clifford scored another wonder goal in Croke Park last Saturday night and one of the interesting factors was the kick-pass into the forward that set up a one-v-one situation and how Clifford made that run slightly across goal and on the turn to take on his defender immediately.

This is without any reference or use of the mark, which will take some time for teams to figure out in an attacking (and defensive) sense and how they move the ball and make runs to create mark possibilities inside the scoring area.

You better believe that kicking into the opposition 45 is going to be an issue for teams to think about and deal with as the spring and summer moves on.

It’ll take some time to see just how much the mark might impact the game and styles of football for better or worse but there has to be some reaction to it. It was definitely weird to see Michael Hurley take a fairly routine catch in his stride last weekend and signal for a mark.

He was running away from goal at the time where working a strike would have been tricky (or not for Hurley who can seem to find space where none exists when he’s at it) so to get to settle down, take a look at goal and get a free shot from maybe 35 metres out on the wing was a real bonus — he did actually miss but it still turned a position from maybe a 50% chance of getting a successful shot away to a 75% chance of scoring. That’s a significant leap just for kick-passing the ball into a forward inside the 45 and it’ll have to come into tactical attacking set-ups at some stage during the season to maximise these kind of returns.

We’ve spoken recently about how working the ball into scoring zones was becoming a focus in the modern game, working a free shot at goal from those scoring zones will surely be a play worth having.

The dynamic of teams looking at kick-passing the ball more anyway and now looking at kick-passing the ball to slightly different areas will take getting used to. Will forwards alter the sort of movements they make now to create different angles to receive kick-passes?

Where a priority previously was taking the ball on the move away from a defender, will forwards now look to just get a yard of space anywhere in the knowledge that one clean catch gives them a free shot at goal?

As a side note, the high ball launch might be a weapon to be aware of in front of both goals. Ciarán Sheehan got one huge catch off a sideline that showed the potential of a high fetcher but that was that — there has to be some idea here to be pulled out in times of crisis.

There may be some defensive realignment necessary here also, in the awareness that surrounding a catcher of a long ball with bodies may no longer be enough to stop a certain score, that the more traditional defensive tricks of dealing with a high ball may be needed again.

For Cork, who just haven’t been consistently very good at kick-passing ball into forwards in recent times, it’ll be interesting to see if it’s more a defensive than attacking factor or if it affects their style at all. It’s hard to recall many kick-passes last Saturday evening v Offaly that went into a forward that immediately presented a shooting chance.

Could the mark allow a player Ciarán Sheehan of Cork make the most of his kick-passing skills? Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Could the mark allow a player Ciarán Sheehan of Cork make the most of his kick-passing skills? Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Ciarán Sheehan’s kick-passing was always an important attribute and if it might be a big ask for him to come back into the game after so long out and be the one to pick intricate holes in packed defences, there was one notable dinked kick-pass in the second half that bisected a few lines of Offaly defenders and hopped perfectly in front of one of the Cork inside-forwards. Sheehan did put one ball over the line early from deep but otherwise his kicking was spot on. 

Cork haven’t had a kick-passing playmaker since Paddy Kelly and even his natural instinct to kick the ball 40 or 50 metres was sort of dictated to by a middle third for Cork that more naturally ran and carried ball into the spaces and channels.

A typical Cork score of the last year would have been a runner, say Ian Maguire or Killian O’Hanlon or one of the flying half-backs, carrying the ball into the scoring zone to pop a pass to a shooter.

The goals against Tyrone and Dublin and Kerry were nearly all from runners opening holes in the opposition defence (Ruairí Deane did kick-pass two assists for Brian Hurley against Limerick and Paul Kerrigan had one diagonal kick-pass for a goal against Laois).

There are players in Cork’s middle third who can kick the ball quite well and cleverly – Kevin Crowley and Sean White for example are both capable of picking out a runner with a bounced 35 metre ball into space. Sean Powter punches holes with runs but has the vision to hit a moving forward inside as well.

Kicking a ball from distance into the full-forward line tends to happen less often though — the argument on whether that’s down to lack of movement of lack of vision/ technical ability has been an ongoing one — and as other teams and the game itself seem intent on making exactly that kick-pass more valuable, everybody might be looking to adapt their style a little.

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