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Plans for sneak peak of new rule tweak miss the mark

By Declan Bogue

AN early chance to see how the new rule of the Australian Rules-style 'mark' may work in Gaelic football has floundered, with this weekend's O'Fiaich Cup clash between Armagh and Derry being contested without the new tweak.

Crossmaglen Rangers, who host the O'Fiaich Cup, were hoping that the December tournament might feature the 'mark', but have missed the opportunity for the request to go before the Competitions Control Committee.

Gerard Rushe, the club Public Relations Officer, explained: "We made an inquiry as to whether we could use it or not. By the time we got the inquiry through we had missed the last Central Council meeting (of the year).

"They are the only body that can approve a derogation from rule.

"The rule is due to come in for the 1st of January, 2017, so we hadn't got the derogation from Central Council to use it in time. That's simply it."

Asked if they might be tempted to implement it anyway if both teams and the match-day referee were agreeable, he responded: "No, it's an official competition, so you have to work within the official rules of the Association, so the main rulebook applies."

Already this autumn, the 'mark' has been used in College competitions. The Central Competitions Control Committee granted the change to them as a pilot scheme, given their season straddles 2016 and 2017.

With most teams now opting for a short kickout to retain possession, the only time a mark can be called is when the catch comes directly from a kickout and occurs between the two 45-metre marks.

At that point, the player can call a mark and has five seconds to release the ball, or continue to play on as before.

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte had previously insisted he was looking forward to getting an early viewing of how it might affect games. He told the Belfast Telegraph back in early November: "It's good to have a go at any of these things. You are going to have to familiarise yourself with them come the new season of 2017.

"It would be good to get a game or two with those new rules in place. It would give us some competitive football as well and that would all be good. I hope it does happen."

At the launch of the referee's handbook in Croke Park this week, All-Ireland final replay official Maurice Deegan was asked about the change from a referee's viewpoint. He said: "The important thing is that if we referee it right from the start and are consistent then there shouldn't be any issue.

"It's there to protect the high fielder in the middle of the field, basically. That's the way I'm looking at it. Plus, you are bringing back a skill to the game, you are reintroducing high fielding - which has sort of gone out of the game because of short kickouts."

One danger that comes with the change is of teams who will simply concede the chance of gaining a 'mark' from the oppositions kickout, and instead flood their defence and instantly make it harder for the team in possession to gain a score.

Deegan alluded to this scenario, stating: "A player catches the ball around the middle of the field, he gets the mark and stops to take it then all the defenders will flood back straight away.

"That's the way it is going to be."

He added, "From what I can see is what you're trying to do is reintroduce a skill that I think has gone, the high fielding plus you are preventing melees from happening around the field. They are the two things that as referees we can see."

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