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Martin Breheny: 'A free for just catching the ball changes basic fabric of football for the worse'

'Advanced mark' isn't very advanced at all

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Kieran Donaghy fields a high ball ahead of Monaghan’s Vinny Corey during a 2018 Super 8s clash. The introduction of the ‘advanced mark’ plays into the hands of players like the former Kerry attacker. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Kieran Donaghy fields a high ball ahead of Monaghan’s Vinny Corey during a 2018 Super 8s clash. The introduction of the ‘advanced mark’ plays into the hands of players like the former Kerry attacker. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Kieran Donaghy fields a high ball ahead of Monaghan’s Vinny Corey during a 2018 Super 8s clash. The introduction of the ‘advanced mark’ plays into the hands of players like the former Kerry attacker. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Picture the moment. The 2020 All-Ireland football final is in its final seconds, with the teams level.

In a last attack, Team A works a move, probably after two dozen consecutive handpasses, taking them close to the opposition's '45.

The carrier then delivers a 20-metre pass to a colleague who catches the ball. Once the kicker is outside and the receiver on or inside the 45- metre line, a simple fetch bestows the most generous gift on the attacking team.

The receiver is entitled to stop play and line up a free shot at goal. Yes - a free shot! Furthermore, he is allowed 15 seconds to take the kick, plenty time to steady himself and take aim.

He slots over the match-winning point - let the celebrations begin! And all because he made the sort of routine catch that 10-year-olds find easy and had a free shot at goal.

The fetch didn't even have to be made above his head. All he had to do was be on or inside the '45, receive a 20-metre (or longer) kicked pass from a colleague outside the '45.

He was then deemed worthy of a free shot of goal, if he wanted one. And why wouldn't he? Welcome to the new world of football in 2020.

Most of the focus on last Saturday's Special Congress decisions was on the Tier 2 championship, a significant development in its own way, but nowhere as important as the approval of the 'advanced mark'.

Tier 2 deals with competition structure, which is essentially administrative business, but the advanced mark fundamentally alters the way the game is played.

The rationale behind it is that it will reduce handpassing, coaxing teams to work on delivering foot passes if they find themselves faced by a massed defence outside the '45.

Encouraging more kicking is a worthy aim, but not to the extent that a player is allowed a free shot at goal for simply winning possession. A free is punishment for breaking the rules, not a reward for a player who does no more than catch the ball.

And just in case that's not a sufficient bonus, he will have 15 seconds before kicking. That's how long a player would take to run the full length of Croke Park, so it's a significant amount of time.

The advanced mark is a fancy name for a soft free, something that 70 per cent of delegates of Congress decided was in football's best interests. No, it's not. Apart from being a totally disproportionate reward for merely taking a pass, it will slow down the game by at least 15 seconds most times.

The advanced mark was among a number of measures trialled in this year's Allianz League, most of which are now written into permanent rule.

It wasn't used as often as might have been expected in the league, but that was down to the pre-season decision not to carry it into the championship.

Managers and coaches decided there was no point devoting much time to a rule that wouldn't be in place in summer.

It will be different next year when strategists work at devising means of maximising what is a clear method of creating easy scoring chances. Does anybody seriously believe it will lead to long kicks driven into the opposition's goal area?

No, it won't. Instead, it will be all about short (as close as possible to 20 metres to limit the risk of error) kicks from outside the '45.

They don't even have to go forward by 20 metres. Once the receiver is on or inside the '45 they are legitimate, provided they travel 20 metres, which means they can go across field.

Apart from seriously interfering with the game as we know it, there's also the issue of correct implementation. How can a referee, who will be mostly behind the play, decide whether the kick is 20 metres or more?

It will be pure guesswork, inevitably leading to mistakes. The 'Sunday Game' should have some fun with their gadgets next year, working out how many incorrect calls were made.

And how can a referee be expected to keep track of 15 seconds every time a player calls an advanced mark and opts to shoot for goal?

You can bet that will extend to 20 seconds or more, which is a further advantage, albeit an illegal one. And whatever about inter-county games, imagine the difficulty it will cause for club referees.

We're told that the advanced mark led to a reduction in handpassing during the league but at what expense? So that a player gets a free shot at goal for catching the ball?

For some inexplicable reason, there was no appetite for restricting the number of consecutive handpasses, but instead we have interference with other areas of the game in the hope it will encourage more kicking. It might, but will also damage the fabric of football.

Despite the obvious flaws, Congress backed it enthusiastically. But then, they saw no reason to challenge anything. Tier 2, the sin bin and kick-outs from the 20-metre line were all waved through too without much opposition.

In fact, the four votes were carried on an average of 75-25 per cent. Why did so few bring their critical faculties to Páirc Uí Chaoimh?

Derry fans primed for better times

Since losing the 2014 Allianz League final heavily (3-19 to 1-10) to Dublin, Derry football has endured hard times.

The steep decline took them all the way to Division 4 before the bounce-back started last spring when they were promoted to Division 3.

Defeats by Tyrone and Laois and a win over Wexford followed in the championship after which manager,  Damian McErlain departed and was replaced by Rory Gallagher.

It’s a good appointment, especially at this stage of Derry’s re-emergence. Recent years really have been grim for supporters but it wouldn’t take much to reignite interest if last Sunday’s county final is a reliable indicator.

A crowd of 9,511 saw Magherafelt win the title for the first time since 1878, beating first-time finalists  Glen by a point.

It was a massive turnout in a county with a relatively small GAA population, underlining the passion for football that exists there.  Many bigger counties are playing their finals before much smaller crowds.

Mind games are often mindless

Once it became prevalent at inter-county level, naming dummy teams was always going to follow on the club scene. And so it has, with all sorts of daft chicanery being used in county finals.

Changing line-ups, using players numbered 2-7 in attack and defenders 10-15, are among the ruses which managers seem to regard as clever. It doesn’t make their teams better or worse, of course, but it goes on anyway.

Still, since inter-county bosses do it, there was bound to be a knock-on. It’s getting worse on the county scene where some are even reluctant to provide details such as age and occupation, citing GDPR concerns.

Again, pure rubbish but there you go. How long before they object to wearing numbered jerseys on the basis that it invades players’ privacy. Far-fetched? Don’t rule it out.

Contrast that with the Rugby World Cup, where teams are announced at least two days before games and who then line out as selected.

Sadly, it’s a bygone concept in the GAA.

Irish Independent