It is a touch ironic that those involved in the implementation of the new “mark” rule, which will bring play to a standstill, suggest it will actually speed up football.
It’s all a guessing game at this stage, of course, with the rule not going live until January 1st, though already there is any amount of commentary on how the bid to reward spectacular catching with a free-kick will pan out.
This year’s All-Ireland football final referees, as well as national referee development committee chairman Seán Walsh, were on hand for a run-through on the new rule at Croke Park yesterday.
If there was a common viewpoint between them, it was that the mark can be something that contributes to fluid and fast-moving games, a suggestion that initially jars.
In practice, a player will be allowed to mark the ball and claim a free kick once he makes a clean catch from a kick-out that travels over the 45-metre line.
There is some fine print: if a player catches the ball inside the 45-metre line, for example, but lands outside it, that’s okay; also, catches following a deflection from another player aren’t permitted. However, it’s generally self-explanatory.
Probably the most important point is that a player will have five seconds after claiming his mark to release the ball.
“What I think it will stop are melees around the middle of the field, like when a ball breaks at the moment and four or five lads are there, one lad will have caught it but straight away he will have four or five around him,” said
, this year’s All-Ireland final replay referee.
“What will happen now is that a free is given for a mark and it will stop all that. So the ball will move on quicker.”
Conor Lane, who took charge of this year's drawn football final, agreed with Deegan.
“I would hope that it frees up the game and keeps the game moving,” he said. “Once he gets the mark, he has five seconds to get the ball moving. Just keep it simple and let it on.”
The new rule was tested in the third level Division 1 league games which came to a conclusion last night in Inniskeen when DCU met UUJ in the final.
Reports from those games suggest that around half the players are choosing to mark the ball after a clean catch, with the other half opting to play on as normal.
“Actually the game is moving along quickly,” said Walsh. “They’ve called a mark but the game has moved quickly. An awful lot are still moving the ball quickly, that’s what we’re seeing.”
College games are, however, typically more open. When it comes to inter-county competition, particularly in next season’s
league games, high fielding may dry up with teams reverting to short kick-outs to guarantee themselves possession. Many teams already play that way.
"I don't think that is going to change," said Deegan. "The idea of this is that the player who catches the ball outside the 45, he's getting the advantage. I don't think you are going to change Stephen Cluxton or anybody else [who kicks it short]."
Walsh agreed that much of it would come down to what style of play a team favours from the kick-out.
“It absolutely has nothing to do with eradicating short kick-outs,” said Walsh. “If the goalkeeper decides he wants to kick the ball short, he can still do that. That will still be in place.
“If a team is playing to a system that there’s not going to be long kick-outs, then the mark is not going to really feature. I would see that where teams have the ability, where they have very good midfielders, the likes of Clare and Gary Brennan would be a typical example for me; they might look to go long with every kick-out now to someone like him.
“It will depend solely on what way managers are going to operate it, what system they’re going to play with on a given day.”