Jarlath Burns: 'The mark will incentivise a great skill'
By John Harrington
Playing rules committee chairman, Jarlath Burns, says the introduction of the mark in to Gaelic Football will incentivise teams to master the skill of high-fielding.
Voted into rule at the 2016 GAA Congress in Carlow, the mark was successfully trialed in Division One of the Higher Education League and will now come into full effect from the beginning of 2017.
Burns is optimistic it will have a positive impact and reinvigorate one of the dying skills of the game.
“This is an attempt to nudge coaches in the direction of the advantage of having a big midfielder in the event perhaps that you might have an option in the middle of the field,” Burns told GAA.ie.
“When we surveyed our members, they said the second thing after a great score they find most entertaining is a great catch in the middle of the field. It would be remiss of us not to try do something to reward that skill rather than penalise those kicking the ball short.
“Until now a team might have a big catcher in the middle of the field and when the ball goes out to him and he catches it, no-one makes any attempt to stop him because instead when he comes down he's swarmed and he loses the ball or is penalised.
“That's a terrible reward for somebody who has gone out of his way to perform the art of catching. So, in our game, we reward fouling. We don't reward the skills, we reward fouling.
“Because if you foul, the play stops and it allows people to get back. But now if you get a mark you can take an unopposed free or else you can play on unimpeded because you have that option. So now you have the incentive to perform that skill.
“That's where we're going, we want to incentivise people to perform one of the most significant skills in Gaelic Football.”
Burns believes the successful trial of the mark in Division One of the Higher Education League should allay any concerns people might have about the impact it will have on the game next year.
“We have had lengthy trials of this rule at Third Level Colleges and it's been uneventful,” says Burns.
“That's what any change should be. You don’t want to radically change the integrity of the game or have unforeseen consequences.
“All we’re seeing is that goalkeepers see an advantage can accrue from kicking the ball to the middle of the field.
“The argument has been made that more people will now come in to the middle to break the ball, well that’s the way it used to be. When I played in midfield you always had people trying to break the ball away in the middle of the field.
“But now unfortunately the ball is not even being kicked out to the middle of the field so you can’t even catch the ball.
“We didn’t intervene to save the drop-kick which was one of the unique skills of the game and now it’s gone. This is just an attempt to do something to incentivise another great skill.”
Burns doesn’t think the mark will have a major impact on the inter-county game in the short-term, but is hopeful there will be long-term positives that will become very apparent in a few years' time.
“I don’t expect this will cause a revolution in next year’s League and Championship,” he says. “What I’m thinking of is the youngsters coming through, and that it might result in the bigger fellas being pushed into the middle of the field from U-16 and minor on.
“We're not even seeing big men in the middle of the field anymore and the GAA has a duty to try to cater for all sizes in the same way that rugby does.
"So if you're big fella that there's a place for you on a GAA team and it's not just the preserve on the one-size demographic and that you have to be pacy and lean to play Gaelic Games.
“Because if that's the route we take then we're disenfranchising and making our games prohibitive to a whole range of people.
“So what I'm thinking is that the U-16 coach will decide, 'Right, we'll put that big lad in the middle of the field and we'll kick the ball out to him.'
“So then by the time those U-16s get to minor, then the art of high-fielding will be become embedded again. This isn't something I expect to have a massive impact on our current generation of county players who are accustomed to the tactic of kicking the ball out short and try to move it up the field from there.
“This is very much something for the future and then maybe in four or five years’ time we will see the benefits of this.”