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Contested Marking. Is it still relevant in the modern game?

One of our proud partners here at Vida Footy is Anthony Rocca. The 242 game AFL star has recently written an insightful piece evaluating the game over the past 5 years. Anthony is currently coaching at Collingwood at both the AFL and VFL and he is also passionate about junior development.

Contested making is the focus of Rocca’s article. As the game evolves year to year, Rocca still conveys contested marking still plays a critical role in the modern game. Here is the first part of his article. Next week the next we will post the remainder of the piece. Enjoy the read!


AFL Avg:























(Contested marking statistics over the past five years)

The conclusion to be drawn from the above figures is that the number of contested marks per match is declining, with sharp decline witnessed from 2012.

The likely reason for this is that teams are increasingly holding on to the ball as much as possible, retaining it in their control and using precision by foot and run, rather than long kicking that may put the ball back into dispute.

It is also clear from the figures that contested marking numbers rise above the AFL average in finals. In four of the five recorded seasons the average number of contested marks taken in finals is significantly above the AFL home and away average.

This suggests that finals, with their greater intensity and pressure, become ‘hot ball’ games where territory gained, especially early in finals, is preferred over possession. As such, greater opportunities for contested marks arise.

Although there is an obvious decline in contested marking numbers, it appears to be the case that the importance of contested marking players increases in finals and high pressure matches.

The decline in contested marking numbers is likely to be a product of tactical trends in the game but does not recognize the importance of a contested marking player who can provide relief to mid-field team-mates under pressure who may have to dispose of the football hurriedly.

Nor does it recognize the importance of the contest itself simply by contesting and bringing the ball to ground, a power or contested marking forward may bring teammates into play. Others will also take their cues, in terms of positioning, from their key forwards.

Despite the noted decline, the value of a contested mark remains high. The reward for effort it offers to team-mates who have worked hard further afield to create the opportunity is significant. A contested mark will also allow for a pause in play that can create momentum and, equally, shift momentum away from the opposition.

Most of all, the guaranteed opportunity to score from a contested mark, if taken inside or just outside of the 50 metre arc, is critical.

In my opinion, a modern day contested marking forward must possess three main qualities.

Reading the flight of the ball

Body positioning/strength

Clean hands

Reading the flight of the ball:

Reading the flight of the ball is possibly the hardest skill to coach and acquire.

Why? The relationship that a forward needs to have with team-mates is a complex and yet critical one. Marking forwards need to know the type of kicks each one of their team-mates can execute. One may spear the kick in short, one kick the ball long and another kick the ball across the body to the advantage side. Team-mates also need to know the strengths of their marking forwards; are they a good hit up lead, a player who leads laterally or a player who likes to trade weight and engage his opponents physically?

Establishing the flight of the ball quickly gives the marking forward an advantage on an opponent, who is not typically making the play but reacting to it. This advantage allows the marking player to get into a superior marking position earlier.

Without this skill, it is unlikely that a marking forward, no matter how strong or nimble, will regularly out-position their opponent.

Come back later on this week to read the next part of Rocca’s insightful article. Until then, watch one of the most famous contested marks ever.