By Shaun Casey
SINCE the attacking mark was added to the GAA rulebook a few years ago, it probably hasn’t been used and abused as much as Down and Cavan adapted the rule in last week’s Tailteann Cup quarter-final.
Both teams utilized the mark very differently. The Mourne men’s adaptation was very much old school, a few big men on the edge of the square with the ball raining in on top of them.
Cavan’s take was much more accustomed to the modern way of thinking. With the Down defence standing off their men and marking zonally, the Breffni forwards took advantage of the free pockets of space and the popped passes into Oisin Brady worked a treat.
Brady slotted over two marks, and chipped in with two more frees from marks that were brought forward for dissent. Pat Havern, Down’s top scorer who often partnered Odhrán Murdock as a twin-tower full-forward duo, also split the posts with an attacking mark.
While every long ball didn’t result in a mark, it was still a worthwhile approach for Down.
“I think when you have the likes of Odhrán Murdock and even myself, being one of the tallest in the team, you have that sort of advantage,” said Havern, who finished with 0-5.
“We got that point in the first half from the throw in and we knew if we got the ball in, even if broke it, there would be boys in around it and we could maybe get a score or two off it and it did help.
“We drop back sometimes but it’s about getting up there to have that presence in the full-forward line. I think it’s maybe just about communication with a lot of the lads.
“You have to communicate; you have to tell boys that maybe you’re out of breath and you don’t want to make that run inside.
“But then maybe other boys are telling you that you need to get in there, it’s that push to go. You have to constantly be focused and that’s what Lav (Conor Laverty) talks about, constantly being focused on your job in hand and knowing your role.
“I think the mark is good, maybe it’s an advantage to the forward. Cavan obviously used it very well, I think they got four or five scores out of it, they were very good at it, and they must practice it a lot at training.
“They were holding off at the 45 and then kicking it into a player making that run but yes, I do like the mark. I’m a forward so maybe I’m going to agree with it a lot more than others,” laughed the Saval sharpshooter.
While Cavan got great joy out of the attacking mark and it was a clear tactic from the Breffni Blues, their manager Mickey Graham isn’t a big fan of the rule.
“I think it’s outdated now to be honest,” said Graham, admitting his team worked on it since the ruling was brought in, even if they didn’t get as many scores off it as they would have liked.
“I just think it’s time to bin it and just get back to playing football again and let lads fight and scrap for the ball like in the past because you could be doing great work defensively and then one fella switches off and it’s a little pop pass.
“It’s discouraging people from taking men on as well. Fans want to see excitement, they want to see players taking lads on, but the mark actually takes away from that.
“We knew Down were going to drop off us and that they mark space more than anything else, so we tried to make sure that we got lads in the pockets, and we did but we just didn’t take those chances.
“We had them and at this level you have to take (score) them. They’re inter-county footballers and at this level you have to be taking those and they’re energy-sappers when they don’t go over the bar,” added Graham.
Down selector Mickey Donnelly echoed the thoughts of the Cavan boss. Down do work on using the attacking mark to their advantage, especially when they have the likes of Murdock and Havern, but Donnelly feels the ruling could be altered slightly.
“I suppose everybody is working on it,” said Donnelly, who is part of Laverty’s management ticket.
“It probably worked well for us today, Odhrán and Pat are both very good in the air. Cavan really posed us a different threat, going for marks out in front of a 15-metre kick pass, it’s very, very frustrating.
“It’s amazing that you get the same reward for kicking the ball 60 yards and a man catches it in a group of three or four men as somebody who dinks a wee ball 15 metres across a line and gets the same reward.
“I think there’s a wee bit of work needs done on that in terms of the rule and tweaking it. It’s something we worked at and thank God; it helped us today.”