Making its Mark

The new rules. A source of debate that seems to have only drawn one conclusion, scrap the ‘attacking mark’. Various examples have done the rounds on twitter, none more so than Michael Murphy’s simple mark and score against Mayo.

When we think of Donegal pumping a high ball into their forward line, Murphy’s goal from the 2012 All-Ireland final immediately springs to mind. Such power and strength to capture the ball, brush off the challenge of his man and bury the ball to the net.

On Saturday, bursting on to possession from 30 yards out, Murphy received the ball, threw his hand up in the air and signalled for a free shot at goal, scoring the resulting mark.

This is the prime example of the nightmare that some feared when the attacking mark was introduced, a stop-start spectacle with no real skill involved, any forward could have done what Murphy done.

And this example will be used by those who feel the mark should be dismissed before the championship and that’s fair, but in Armagh’s demolition of Cavan on Saturday night, there was a great case to be made for why the rule should remain in the game.

The contest was barely one minute old when the crowd were treated to a wonderful Conor Turbitt catch, leaping high up into the air to win possession despite being sandwiched by two Cavan defenders.

Turbitt displayed a beautiful skill that for years was reminisced on my GAA pundits, the forward catching a long kick pass into the attacking third of the field.

It’s fair to say that had the rule not been introduced for Saturday night’s match, there’s no doubt that as soon as the young Armagh attack’s feet hit the ground, he would have been surrounded by several Cavan defenders and eventually blown up for too long, a common sight in the modern game.

There can be no question that Turbitt’s excellent fetch received the reward it deserved as he stroked the resulting mark between the posts to make full use of the new rule.

This piece of play was a fine example of why the mark rule was brought in, to reward the attacking team for playing with an attacking style, long kick passes into the forward line with brave forwards breaking out and pouncing upon possession, without being trampled by converging defenders. A purists dream.

Of course as things usually play out in the GAA, this was all going too well, and it didn’t take long for the positivity surrounding gaelic football’s new scapegoat to turn from smiles to eye rolling and sighs.

Turbitt had doubled his personal tally with a second point before another diagonal ball found its way into the young Clann Eireann man’s path.

‘Turbo’ once again stole away from his marker to catch the ball cleanly, raising his hand in the air, waiting for the sound of the referee’s whistle that never came. Taking matters into his own hands, Turbitt played on and stroked over his third point.

While the Armagh contingent cheered for their sides third score, it’s fair to say that had the same incident occurred at the other end of the field, Cavan’s cheers would have been drowned out by moans from the home support.

And therein lies another problem, the referees understanding and implementation of the rule. Barry Cassidy, a regular as the man in the middle of county games, struggling to correctly award the mark.  

Murphy’s and Turbitt’s examples fall under the same rule, however are completely different. There seems to be too much confusion surrounding the rule and with it we are once again piling on added pressure to officials who already have enough to deal with, before even thinking of the lonely club referee’s and what they face in the coming months.

It seems that the GAA will be put under huge pressure to bin the rule and while I’m not an advocate of the attacking mark, Turbitt’s example raises questions and demonstrates when the forward should be rewarded for catching a long kick pass, although it’s hard to imagine the new ruling will have the same positive effect that the opening minute suggested last weekend.