It took a mere 11 minutes of the 2020 inter-county season to throw up the first controversial incident of the new playing rules.
At Brewster Park where Down overcame Fermanagh 1-11 to 0-7, their captain Darren O’Hagan played in a long ball towards the back post. Owen McCabe caught it and stuck up his hand to signal a mark. The whistle was blown.
McCabe didn’t dwell and stuck the ball over the bar but referee Conor Dourneen — taking charge of his first-ever county game here — then called the ball back to be thrown up in the 14-metre line. The confusion arose because O’Hagan was not outside the opposition 45-metre mark when he kicked the ball.
Down manager Paddy Tally didn’t want to be too critical — his side had just scored a decent win over a rusty Fermanagh side that had denied them a single shot over the first 20 minutes, but he was mildly agitated.
“I thought the referee didn’t actually know at times as well,” he explained.
“I spoke to the officials at half-time, and they’re saying about how it’s going to be policed later on — a player sitting inside doesn’t know whether the ball’s kicked from outside the 45, inside the 45…
“The one he called in the first half, Owen thought the ball was caught on the mark, the referee blew the whistle and stopped the game, and then hopped the ball. If Owen had been told to play on he’d have played on, but by the referee blowing the whistle he stopped thinking he had won the mark.
“It’s difficult and I have sympathy for the officials to try and monitor this thing. In principle it’s a good rule, I like the inside mark and it rewards a player for a clean catch, but how you police that through the rest of the year is going to be very difficult.”
Fermanagh manager Ryan McMenamin pondered on how the mark rule is going to be policed further down the food chain. “The player had actually kicked inside the ‘45’, so there you have it in a nutshell,” he said. “It’s messed up really at county level. I don’t know what it is going to be like at club level, I think it could be carnage.
You looked at a couple, it made it stop-start and even the black card, it’s not playing time, it’s just time, so it pays you to slow the game down.”
After that slow start, Tally sprung young Liam Kerr from the Down bench and he got them off the mark on 21 minutes, finishing the game with 1-3 to his credit and the man of the match award.
Seamus McEnaney’s second spell back with Monaghan yielded a 1-17 to 0-14 win over Derry, who themselves were under Rory Gallagher for the first time.
Monaghan started much the bright and were 1-3 to 0-0 up after nine minutes, the goal arriving from Aaron Mulligan.
Despite that Derry got their teeth into matters and had a three-point lead after 45 minutes. Monaghan’s bench made the telling difference going down the stretch, substitutes Kieran Hughes and Jack McCarron both shooting 0-2 from play.
Armagh laid on a shooting exhibition in Kingspan Breffni Park, blitzing Cavan 2-17 to 1-13.
With Rian O’Neill at full-forward outstanding, they once again served notice of the potential of their forward line, against a Cavan side that were clearly weakened by the decision of several key players not to commit for the 2020 season.
Two goals from Conor Turbit sent a strong-looking Armagh line-up on their way.