Top referees confident the mark will loosen midfield jam

This year’s All-Ireland SFC final referees foresee the mark speeding up the game.

Maurice Deegan and Conor Lane have also suggested the new rule has the potential to clear up melees in the middle of the field.

“I hope it frees up the game more and keeps the game moving,” said Banteer man Lane of the law change which will be introduced on January 1.

“I don’t think you can look for problems, I don’t think there will be problems with it, really. Once he gets the mark, he has five seconds to keep the ball moving. Keep it simple.”

Deegan imagines the extra level of protection provided to catchers benefitting the game.

“What I think it will stop are melees around the middle of the field, like when a ball breaks and four or five lads are there — one lad will catch it but straight away he will have four or five around him. What will happen now is when the free is given with a mark it will stop all that. So the ball will move on quicker.”

Unlike Lane, who has been busy with family commitments, Deegan has had first-hand experience of the mark refereeing two college league games. He noticed more players were willing to play the ball having been entitled to a mark free.

“I found that you are looking at about six or seven marks per game. A lot of the players, from what I’ve seen, they want to play on more than anything else. College football is very open; we’ll really see what it’s like once Division 1 of the league starts, then we’ll know what the bones of it are going to be like.”

The national referees panel are expected to officiate in next month’s pre-season matches to ensure as smooth as possible a welcome for the mark. Deegan takes the point a lot is being put on referees’ plate. “There is a lot there. Look, the important thing is that if we referee it right from the start and are consistent then there shouldn’t be any issue.”

The officials were speaking at the launch of the new Referee’s Handbook at Croke Park. Referees development chief Seán Walsh gave a strong endorsement to the black card — although Deegan admitted he should have shown one to Dublin’s John Small in the All-Ireland final replay.

Deegan didn’t kick himself about the decisions to black card Jonny Cooper and Lee Keegan, but he rued not properly punishing the Small trip on Andy Moran. “The one I would regret looking back on my final was about five or six minute into the game, John Small was on a run down the sideline.

“And from I was positioned, I knew he was after tackling Andy Moran. From where I was standing, I couldn’t really see it properly. We’re wired up and all that type of thing. I went into the linesman and he didn’t see it properly. And I even asked him again after that.

“We weren’t 100% sure. And if I had anything from that match, that’s the main regret – that I didn’t black card Johnny Small. I’m just being perfectly honest now. Because if I had black-carded him at the time, it probably would have set a better tone to the game. I was very disappointed with myself that I missed that. Apart from that, I was happy enough.”

Walsh accepts there are inconsistencies in the application of the black card but said: “One point I would like to make in relation to the black card is that it is serving the purpose for what it was brought in to do. We have to be very, very mindful of that fact.

“I think there won’t be a question over the black card. But we can’t be in a position next year to say that there are still inconsistencies. Maybe there will be little inconsistencies but we have to limit them. The black card is here to stay. That’s the message I’m giving loud and clear.”

Stradbally man Deegan said he was unaware of the Diarmuid Connolly-Lee Keegan coverage prior to the replay as he kept away from all forms of media.

“Even after the game, the amount of people who said that Lee Keegan shouldn’t have gotten black carded or that Johnny Small should have gotten black carded. Personally, if I believe I’m right in my actions, then I’m happy enough. It’s all about being mentally strong.

“And that’s something that looking down the road a bit, we’re looking to get referees involved in psychology and that type of thing. With regards to rules and fitness and that type of thing, another thing that has to be looked at is the mental side of things.”

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