'Mark' my words, new rule won't be a big leap forward
I've just returned to work after an extended break, and I'd be lying through my teeth if I said I was full of enthusiasm on this quiet Bank Holiday Monday morning.
It starts all over again next Sunday with an appealing double-header in Gorey when the Wexford hurlers and footballers take on U.C.D. in the Bord na Móna Walsh and O'Byrne Cups respectively.
First things first, credit goes to the new-look County Board top table for ensuring that supporters have the opportunity to see both teams. It was a wise move to alter the original fixtures given that both sides were due to play at the same time roughly 18 miles apart.
The appointment of two high-profile new managers has led to an understandable buzz of anticipation, and it's vital to tap into this at every possible opportunity. Staging these games at the same location is an obvious example.
Furthermore, it's good to see the Naomh Eanna club getting the opportunity to showcase the fine work they have carried out in developing Páirc Uí Shíocháin.
The new stand at the venue will host its first decent crowd next Sunday, and hopefully the C.C.C.C. will follow suit by allocating some Senior club games to the venue when the time comes.
Any break from work for me still has to involve attendance at some sporting events, as I'd quite likely go mad without it.
I went to the much-maligned inter-provincial finals in both codes in the lead-up to Christmas, with the hurling in Thurles on a Thursday night followed two days later by the football in Carrick-on-Shannon.
Both were entertaining, high-scoring affairs, with the players afforded an opportunity to express themselves and be a lot more adventurous than on the inter-county scene where the micro-management of every aspect of both games has put paid to a lot of individual flair and creativity in my opinion.
One example from early in the football final between eventual winners Ulster and Connacht springs readily to mind. The latter were awarded a free roughly 25 metres out and a forward decided to chance his arm by taking it quickly to a colleague who promptly rattled the ball to the net.
It was a bit of improvisation that simply wouldn't be seen during a championship game in the height of summer, and that's the type of thinking outside the box spectators love to witness.
The 'Mark' rule will come into play at inter-county level this weekend, and it was also deployed by Kerry referee Pádraig O'Sullivan in Carrick-on-Shannon at the inter-provincial final.
He blew his whistle a few times to signify clean catches from kick-outs past the 45-metre line, but it had no major bearing as in all cases the player in possession simply kept on moving.
More to the point, from memory all of these were instances where a player made a run to the sideline to collect a delivery on his chest without having to leap off the ground, and minus a direct opponent contesting possession with him.
I can't for the life of me understand what's particularly skilful about this, or why it should be rewarded by giving a player the option of taking a free-kick. Mark my words, there will be more instances of this than of a midfielder leaping into the clouds and grabbing the ball spectacularly above two or three opponents.
I'm in agreement with former Down footballer Colm McAlarney, himself a fine exponent of the high catch, who remarked last week that football wasn't designed to be a 'stop and go' game.
Just think of that horrible hybrid they play between Ireland and Australia, and the constant whistling after little dinked passes to players making easy catches and then taking a few steps back to consider their options. Is that what we want to foster and encourage in Gaelic football? I sincerely hope not.
Speaking of those compromise rules games, I'd be very happy if they were consigned to history and a lot more effort was instead put into saving the inter-provincial championships.
I can't see it happening though because, just like turkeys would never vote for Christmas, high-ranking G.A.A. officials and members of the national media will never say or do anything to lessen the possibility of visiting Australia every couple of years on a junket.