No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

DECLAN BONNER: Players asked to step up to the ‘mark’

Former Tyrone star Conor Gormley claiming a high ball while playing for his club Carrickmore.

Former Tyrone star Conor Gormley claiming a high ball while playing for his club Carrickmore.

THE big news from the GAA world this week is that the ‘mark’ will become part of our game on January 1.

The new rule means that a player who catches the ball on or past the 45 metre line from a kick-out, without it touching the ground, will have the option to call a ‘mark’ and take a free-kick, or just play on as normal.

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It was introduced to bring the art of high fielding back into the game, but I’m disappointed to see that any catch – even one just a foot off the ground – will constitute a ‘mark’.

I feel there should have been some stipulation that you had to catch the ball above your head.

We have been told that there’s no room for big men in the modern game, and that this will bring them back into vogue, but the way I look at it, a good goalkeeper is going to be more important than a towering centre-fielder.

If you have a goalkeeper who is confident enough to spray his kick-outs, he will be able to drill the ball out low to his midfielders or half-forwards, so that they can catch it clean in their chest, instead of risking a 50/50 ball out to the middle.

The powers-that-be are trying to cut out short kick-outs, but I can’t see this rule changing that tactic.

It has been trialled in the third-level Ryan Cup games over the last month or so, and by all accounts, the majority of players who do catch a ball from a kick-out are opting to play on, rather than call the ‘mark’.

The modern game is all about moving the ball quickly, and delaying your pass by just a second or two could allow a player or two to drop back.

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The other issue with it is that opposition teams are going to try and slow down the midfielder who’s taking the kick, to allow them to get their defensive strategy in place, even if that means the ball is brought forward 13 metres.

I think it’s another case of people wanting to be seen doing something.

I don’t see this need to be constantly altering and tweaking gaelic football. The Black Card has been an absolute disaster and has just caused more problems.

The game goes through different trends and tactics, but it generally comes back around again.

Yes, we might not have seen much high fielding over the last five years or so, but look at the two midfielders for the Donegal minor team this year – Kieran Gallagher and Jason McGee – who really caught the eye with some super catches.

I think you will find that if a team has a big man who can field the ball, then most of the time, they will kick it to him.

It will be interesting to see what kind of impact the ‘mark’ has during the McKenna Cup and the league, but I’d be surprised if there’s much of a difference.

Ulster Club finalists

The Ulster Club Final takes place this Sunday in Armagh and it promises to be an intriguing battle between Slaughtneil and Kilcoo.

Kilcoo's Conor Laverty and Slaughtneil's Chrissy McKaigue will go to battle on Sunday

Kilcoo’s Conor Laverty and Slaughtneil’s Chrissy McKaigue will go to battle on Sunday

Slaughtneil are the talk of the country as they have won senior championship titles in football, hurling and camogie this year, which is a magnificent achievement, made all the more impressive by the fact that they are just a small parish.

There’s clearly a huge emphasis on GAA in Slaughtneil and it just goes to show you what can be achieved when you have the right structures in place, and are prepared to put in the hard work.

The Derry side won the Ulster Club Championship in 2014, and they have six different starters in the team now.

A lot was made of how the Watty Graham’s club won four Ulster Minor titles in successive years, but their toughest battle each season was getting over Slaughtneil in Derry.

The likes of Keelan Feeney and Shane McGuigan have walked into the Slaughtneil senior team this year, and they are top class players.

Slaughtneil must feel that they have all the momentum behind them going into Sunday’s final, but they will meet a Kilcoo side that have had their eyes on the Ulster crown for a long time.

They have won the Down Championship for five years in-a-row, but each time they have come up short in the province.

Kilcoo will go into Sunday’s match as slight underdogs, but they have beaten both Glenswilly and Maghery comfortably, and they will be ready to bring war to Slaughtneil this week.

I saw Conor Laverty quoted in the press this week saying Kilcoo are as well prepared as any inter-county team, but they will have to line out without Jerome Johnston on Sunday and he will be a huge loss.

The likes of Laverty, Paul Devlin, Darragh O’Hanlon, and Ryan Johnston will have to really step it up and deliver on the big day.

Interestingly, Paul McIver, who did stats for his father Brian when he was Donegal manager, is in charge of Kilcoo this year, while Brian is now part of his backroom team. It’s funny how things go full circle.

Slaughtneil are a strong team and they have three defenders – Chrissy McKaigue, Brendan Rogers, and Karl McKaigue – who started for Derry this year, while Christopher Bradley also lined out for the Oak Leaf County, and big Patsy Bradley is still going well.

They are managed by a man who is well familiar to gaels in Donegal, Mickey Moran, who like McIver in the opposite dugout, is an outside manager.

It will be a ferocious battle and I expect it to go right down to the wire. Fine margins usually decide the Ulster Club Final, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes to extra-time like last year’s decider between Crossmaglen and Scotstown.

However, I just feel that Slaughtneil have that experience of winning it before and I think they will get over the line again this weekend.

The Connacht Final also takes place this week between two famous clubs, Corofin (Galway), and St Brigid’s (Roscommon).

Corofin is a huge parish on the outskirts of Galway City, and they are one of the biggest clubs in Ireland.

They have benefited from people moving out to the suburbs, and every year, they have a handful of Galway minors and under 21s.

Corofin won the All-Ireland Club title two seasons ago, and they want to get back to Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day.

St Brigid’s have also tasted All-Ireland success in recent times, and they are now under the guidance of former Roscommon star Frankie Dolan.

I expect them to put it up to Corofin, but it will probably be a step too far for St Brigid’s.

One of the best stories this year is The Nire’s run to the Munster Club Final.

The Waterford Champions shocked Carberry Rangers when they were huge underdogs, but I think their luck will run out when they meet the Gooch and Dr Crokes this Sunday.

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