New rules criticised for being well off the mark
Managers and players were united in their call yesterday for further clarity to be brought to the concept of the mark, which is under experiment in the pre-season provincial football competitions and the forthcoming National League.
Despite last week's clarification from Croke Park, confusion still reigned at some venues over the weekend as to the interpretation of the mark -- or free-kick, as it's officially known -- when a player catches a kick-out cleanly between the two 45s.
When Croke Park hosts a gathering of all inter-county managers next Tuesday, which will cover all issues relating to the playing of games and the running of teams, the confusion over the mark looks set to generate much debate.
Under current rules, a referee is the sole arbitrator as to whether a player can play on or not after taking a mark. But most managers and players contacted yesterday, and who gave post-match reaction over the weekend, would prefer if the player had that option.
A referee must blow his whistle for a free-kick when the ball is caught between the two 45s but if a clear advantage is evident -- in other words, if a catch is made in plenty of space -- then the referee is allowed to play on.
This was the message delivered to the players of Longford and Meath prior to their O'Byrne Cup first-round match in Ballymahon on Sunday by referee Sean Marron. But in Newbridge, Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney revealed after his side's victory over UCD that referee Fergal Kelly had indicated to the players beforehand that they must stop when they hear the whistle.
"We didn't have an option. When the referee blew, he wanted the player to stop. That was the message we took from it," said McGeeney.
McGeeney -- who is against rewarding skills in isolation, as he feels the mark does -- and Kildare forward Ronan Sweeney both concurred that giving the player the option at all times to stop and take a free-kick or play on was the only way forward for an experimental rule already in trouble. "The mark would probably be a good idea if you could play on," Sweeney said. "If you make a mark when you're on your own, it doesn't make any sense to have to stop."
Croke Park games manager Pat Daly, who was on the football task force committee that set out all the rules, also feels the Australian Rules-style mark, which allows a player the option to carry on, would be his preferred option now. Cavan manager Tommy Carr says he still remains confused by the various interpretations of the mark after being at two games over the weekend. His own Cavan team lost to Donegal in the McKenna Cup on Saturday and he was a spectator at Sunday's O'Byrne Cup game between DCU and Westmeath.
"I saw different interpretations in both games," Carr said. "Nicholas Walsh made a catch on his own 45 where I saw no advantage and neither did he (Walsh). But when he stopped to take his free, he was tackled by two or three players and the referee blew him for over-carrying.
"The following day, I was at the Westmeath game against DCU and I saw a very similar incident treated differently. A player caught, just as Nicholas had, stopped to take his free and was tackled, but the free was given."
Carr also called for a further modification to be made to allow players make the decisions at all times on whether they have the advantage or not. "It just doesn't make sense to have a referee deciding what's an advantage. The player must have the option if this particular rule is to have any chance," he said.
Chairman of the referees' committee Mick Curley, who was on the original task force, said instructions given to players were clear: if an advantage was there for a player, it should be given with a wave of a hand or a vocal call.
Curley said the experimental rules should be given time to bed down because, he said, "everyone from players to managers and referees were only getting used to them. I think it will take time for players and referees to adapt but once it starts working well, they'll see the benefit of it."
Dublin manager Pat Gilroy is still lukewarm towards the idea of the mark and predicts more fouling taking place. "It's only going to make you more determined not to let people catch the ball with the mark, as you're giving away a free if a catch is made. You might even get more fouling because you're giving away a free anyway," he said.
"I don't understand the tinkering around with it. What was done last year was fairly radical and then it was thrown out, so leave it for a year or two and see is everything ok, because after last year's championship everyone seemed happy with it and then these are launched on us. I don't see the benefit of the mark, in terms of slowing up the game."