The new rules had their first official airing this past weekend in the five O’Byrne Cup games, and it was encouraging that the Leinster Council brought in the five referees last week to brief them in advance.
Referees have to be up to speed with the sin bin, the advanced mark, and the 20m kickout more than anybody else, and if their understanding of it is clear then that will filter down to the stands and terraces.
In the Laois-Offaly game in Portarlington on Saturday, referee Niall Ward spoke to both teams about the rules before the game.
There was no advanced mark in the first half, only three kickout marks from the 20m kickout — but there were two instances of the new rule (advanced mark) in the second half.
Both times they fell to Offaly. In the first situation, Bernard Allen caught the ball and held up his hand to confirm he wished to take a shot at goal.
He kicked it wide, as did Cian Johnson in the 58th minute.
Later, there was a black-card incident when Evan O’Carroll deliberately tripped the Offaly goalkeeper Paddy Dunican.
Referee Ward chatted with his umpires before issuing the black card and so O’Carroll was sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes.
Offaly went on to win the game, assisted by the numerical advantage. O’Carroll was also his team’s top scorer.
I think the danger of committing a cynical foul, especially in those closing stages, will soon become clear. It’s no longer the player being punished, but the team — and while there mightn’t be much on the line in a December O’Byrne Cup game, the stakes are going to get much higher starting from the end of January.
The indications from Portarlington suggest that the sin bin is going to be a winner. Referees won’t be as slow to show black cards, although some small matters — such as what happens when a goalkeeper is sent to the sin bin — still have to be confirmed.
As regards the advanced mark, it appears to be the trickiest issue facing referees.
This year’s drawn All- Ireland final referee David Gough has already voiced his concerns about it.
There is enough pressure on referees to get measurements right and assessing whether a ball travels 20m — and remember it can be almost lateral and diagonal as much as straight — adds to their burden.
We won’t really get a true sense until Round 2 or 3 of the Allianz League in February, but what is certain is that referees will be facing into more decision-making during the course of a game.
What happens when a player kicking in the ball from outside the 45 to a team-mate is pushed in the back? Do you give advantage to the player who has caught the ball, even if he has signalled for a mark or if he has dropped it, do you give the free for the foul committed earlier?
You can also see the game changing as a result of the new mark.
The Kingstons are missing for Laois this coming season, but teams are all but certain to consider using big men at the edge of the square. It may mean that sweepers have to drop that bit deeper to mind the house, and possibly reduce the congestion around the half-back lines.
But the lateral 20m kick inside the 45m line will also benefit the shooters, so those usually associated with being close to goal may come further out the field to get those free shots at goal.
In conclusion, I can see the sin bin being received favourably in inter-county football and the 20m kick-out will look after itself — but the jury has to be out on the advanced mark rule for a number of reasons.