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Saturday 10 December 2016

Curve Ball: Let's make a leap of faith off the mark

Gary Brennan
Gary Brennan

Love it or loathe it - or even if you're somewhere in the middle, feigning affection while secretly not caring a toss - International Rules may just have bequeathed its biggest service yet to Gaelic football.

It's all in the timing. The timing of a soaring jump from Aidan O'Shea or Gary Brennan or Darren Hughes to claim a spectacular midfield 'mark'.

And the timing of when this happened. Ninety-five years to the day since Bloody Sunday, Gaelic football circa 2015 has never been less a game of catch-and-kick.

Over the ensuing decades, even as the game evolved tactically, these two qualities remained cornerstone features. How high can you fly to catch a ball? Then, on return to terra firma, how accurately can you kick it?

Football's evolution since then should be broadly welcomed. The athleticism and pace of the modern player is a thing of wonder; the seismic tactical shifts of the last decade prove the game is alive, organic, not static.

Chess

For opposing managers and players, trying to figure out how to penetrate a well-drilled blanket defence is akin to playing out a game of chess in your head, seven moves ahead.

At times, it can be fascinating to watch. Other times, though, it can be stupefyingly boring.

Which brings us back to the 'mark'. Now, we appreciate that some strategists will cry blue murder over any attempt to introduce a rule aimed at stifling their influence. And we can see why some third-level boffins aren't best pleased at proposals to trial the 'mark' in the Sigerson Cup.

Well, tough. Getting this right could have hugely positive ramifications.

Remember, we are not talking about an all-embracing Aussie Rules-type mark - that would be a staccato horror show, whereas the Jarlath Burns-chaired rules review committee is proposing that kickouts travel beyond the 45m line and, when a player catches such a restart, he can play the ball unimpeded.

Decommissioning

This move is partially about encouraging the type of spectacular kickout catches witnessed in Croker last Saturday night. It's even more about decommissioning the short kickout.

Ten years ago, in the first half of Dublin's thrilling All-Ireland quarter-final stalemate with Tyrone, Ciarán Whelan gobbled up an astonishing seven clean kickouts. Mickey Harte, being the scheming tinkerman that he is, figured a way to stop him ... today, that first half wouldn't have happened in the first place.

Yes, the short kickout may facilitate those who worship at the alter of possession retention ... but it does nothing for the spectacle of football and, more to the point, actively encourages a proliferation of hand-passing.

But what if the 'mark' makes the game too stop-start? Well, that's why you need to trial it (not for the first time, we know!) and more accurately gauge its impact.

Every sport needs to evolve.

Soccer was transformed by the abolition of the back pass; maybe Gaelic football could be born again by giving oxygen to the ozone-puncturing midfielder.

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