Better late than never or has the horse bolted?


At a time when what would once have been considered unthinkable on the political landscape is – at the time of typing – at least generating discussion, should it not serve as a reminder that certain things shouldn’t be categorically, indefinitely ruled out? Or, to employ a more mundane example, doesn’t your columnist eventually realising the farming dream add credence to the sense one should never say never?

Yet, it has been a modicum disappointing to observe the roundly negative reaction to the re-introduction of the ‘Mark’ to Gaelic football. But, at the same time, reservations expressed are hard to quibble with. Simply because the game has moved on from the point it was at when the stipulation rewarding high fielding was previously trialled. And even more so from the years more recently when it may have been seen to best effect.

Whether that evolution is a good thing or not is a discussion for another day. However, you have to ask, is the re-run of the adjustment rewarding high fielding a case of better late the never or horse the horse already bolted? Put another way, has the spectacle of the big catch been rendered obsolete in the game?

While it would be great if it were viable to vehemently disagree with Ciaran Whelan’s assertion that the latter is very much the case, one simply cannot. The role of the midfielder in football today has fundamentally changed from where it was when I began attending matches 26 years ago.

former Dublin player Ciaran Whelan

To watch videos of great midfielders of the not so distant past such as Whelan himself or John McDermott or Anthony Tohill or Darragh O’Se or, indeed, the front man of the committee which propagated the idea, Jarlath Burns, is to lament how much the game has evolved, even from their heyday.

Change needn’t be a pariah though. Whelan is correct in his observation that the role of those in the central sector has been altered seismically by a combination of coaches and goalkeepers. Stephen Cluxton will automatically be pinpointed as the most obvious driver of change owing to the frequency with which the Parnells man targets Jonny Cooper and James McCarthy and Jack McCaffrey and Paul Flynn with restarts.

It’s not just him of, mind you. Only that others aren’t as adept at it. There have been several calamities born out of custodians attempting to mimic the nation’s best stopper. Nor is it a new phenomenon or one irrelevant to hurling. The great Cork team of the early and mid 00’s based much of their success on the premise of Donal Og Cusack locating John Gardner, Ronan Curran, Sean Og O’hAilpin and Tom Kenny with abridged kick outs.

Why the abbreviated resumptions alter the impact of the duo stationed adjacent to the half way line is that, with half backs and half forwards being selected as first receivers, midfielders are now most impactful when running into space or off the shoulder of the ball carrier to present themselves as overlap options.

Pointing out all of the above does not, however, dissuade the inclination that once again incentivising the attractiveness of high fielding isn’t a bad thing. Even though Whelan’s contention that there are other skills are equally as deserving of specific reward in comparison to high fielding is entirely meritorious. However, that shouldn’t preclude the aforementioned facet of the game from being encouraged either.

It has been mentioned in this space a few times before, and is worth getting another spin out now, that, a few years ago, yours truly put together a trilogy of columns – only one of which ever made it to press – the gist of which was ‘Three steps to save Gaelic football’ from whatever morass it found itself in at the time.

The ‘Mark’ was the fulcrum of what I had in mind at the time, and it still has a worth. Dictums curtailing the use of the handpass and allowing for the introduction of video technology to assist referees being the others. That said, placing emphasis on other skills as well is of course a good thing. My only questions are thus: (a) What aspect of the game do you select for special attention and (b) how exactly do you reward whatever is picked out?

In the past, in hurling, two points for a line cut was trialled – and should have been maintained in my view – but, aside from, maybe, awarding five or six points for a penalty, it’s unclear what other new ideas could be introduced. What is certain, though, is that here’s one spectator who won’t complain if there’s even a little bit more high fielding in matches!

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