How teams are treating the advanced mark

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Moycullen's Mark Lydon rises above Tuam's Mike Fahy. Photo credit: Shane Tighe

The introduction of the advanced mark to Gaelic football at the start of 2020 was a polarising one. Purists argued that it would make the game too defensive and that teams would condense their own ’45 to stop forwards catching the ball cleanly. The opposing view argued that it would re-introduce the kick-pass to a game where running the ball had become the popular option.

Obviously, there were pros and cons to the rule. For example, teams with taller players were at an obvious aerial advantage. But, to counter the argument that teams were going to adopt defensive set-ups, kick-passing often moves the ball too quickly for teams to get enough bodies back into their ’45.

Old Habits Die Hard

However, since its introduction, the advanced mark has been used less frequently than one may have expected. Instead, the running game that has been drilled into many teams is proving hard to shake. Even when the ball does get kicked, forwards often elect to run it rather than take on the mark.

For example, in the return of the National League Donegal played Tyrone. In the first-half, Donegal talisman Michael Murphy collected a kick-pass on the ’21 on the right-hand side of the pitch. Instead of claiming the mark and taking a free (note that Murphy is Donegal’s primary free-taker), he carried on and shook off his marker to kick a lovely left-footed score. But, had he missed that chance his decision not to take the mark would have been criticised.

Over time it may become a case that the mark is the go-to for forwards. Meanwhile, it seems like old habits die hard. In the final round of the National League last weekend, only five scores were kicked from marks in the four Division 1 games. Tyrone’s win over Mayo was a game that yielded no scores as a result of marked balls.

In addition to this, Tyrone’s second goal in that game is evidence of how the new rule is not affecting the game negatively. Just before half-time, Tyrone’s Conor McKenna picked up the ball around halfway. Then, he kicked a Connelly-esque ball inside to Dara Canavan. Mayo’s Oisin Mullin was the defender responsible for Canavan and to his credit Mullin did nothing wrong. He was marking in front and to the wingside of his man. But, such was the accuracy of the ball that it landed on Canavan’s chest. As a result, the Tyrone forward was goalside of his man. Using his pace, Canavan opted to run the ball and ended up finding the net.

Of course, he could have graced the pass with a mark. But, some kick passes deserve more than a point.

Will the Mark alter tactics?

As a result, the advanced mark is having the desired effect of encouraging more kick-passes. Thus far, forwards are only giving it a second-thought after first looking to play on.

This could bridge the gap between weaker and stronger teams. If weaker teams can use the rule effectively, they can pick off points against stronger opposition when forwards may be isolated inside.

On the other hand, we could see the use of sweepers re-introduced. Otherwise, teams will have to pressurise their opposition much higher up the pitch. This type of game would make the middle-third a much more competitive battleground.

A faster game as a result of increased kick-passing would be an improvement in many eyes. This could come with its own downsides though. For example, if a ball moves the length of the pitch in two passes will the referee be close enough to the action to make accurate decisions? This could result in the GAA mimicking the AFL and using multiple referees.

The rule is still in its infancy. Therefore, the teething problems are following it (Aidan O’Shea’s misunderstanding of the rule last weekend is one example). With the Championship about the commence though, we will see the rule have its true effect.

Championship football differs from League in that teams will do what it takes to win. Hence, exploitation of the advanced mark could be incoming. But, for now the evidence has been promising. In the coming weeks, it will be of great interest to see how teams utilise the prompt to kick the ball.

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