In the world of a county footballer, coach or manager, this week will be a huge tracking test for the portfolio of work each has built through the unforgiving winter months in preparation for what is - for the majority - the most important competition of the season.

Players will certainly have been slaving to prepare their bodies and minds for Allianz Football League battle and have waged internal wars with teammates through training, challenge matches and pre-season fixtures with team and squad status at stake.

Verdict will be passed on their efforts over the coming days when match-day squads and starting teams are announced. The impact of those status updates should never be underestimated within any group of competitors.

Till The Soil

This period for any county manager is arguably the most arduous of the season. In all areas of preparation, there will be a huge volume of work to get through to ensure that the players are as far down the performance path as possible before those seven league fixtures begin.

S&C, sports science and medical staff are building conditioning foundations for the season ahead and analysts are profiling opponents as well as measuring the impact of their own team’s playing patterns' evolution.

All of this requires significant guidance from the top if the efforts are to be co-ordinated and have significant impact on what happens on the pitch.

Most importantly, managers will have tasked their coaching staff with using pitch and meeting room time over this 'pre-season' period to address fundamental gameplan and pattern-of-play issues for the months ahead.

For the top teams, these will be mostly tweaks in approach that can eke out key performance improvements that are the difference between narrow defeats and narrow victories.

Offensive and defensive kickout strategies, defensive structures, attacking patterns and transition protocols are the basic phases of the game that teams are now judged on. If coaches fail to prepare comprehensively in each of these areas, they are selling their team short and not arming them with the weapons they need to compete on the pitch.

While players have been pushing their bodies to the limit, coaches will have been weaving gameplan principles into every pitch session to find the templates of play - with and without the ball - that allow the individual qualities of their players to knit and maximise the team’s overall capacity to play football.

Anyone who understands this body of work would never create an environment where the playing rules of the most important competition of the season are scheduled to be finalised a week before that competition starts.

Against that backdrop, the whole approach of the most recent rules experiment beggars belief.

Tactical Opportunity

Given the uncertainty around our playing rules and the general acceptance among those that were using them over this trial period that very few would be retained, it is difficult to believe that many teams will have prepared comprehensively to exploit them.

Opportunity therefore knocks loudly on the door for those who may have some work done on utilising the offensive mark in particular.

The offensive mark has the potential to completely change the emphasis of attacking play through the league, though maybe not entirely in the way we might anticipate. Of course, winning the ball will be central to capitalising on opportunities but it should be a given that quality forwards have that capacity.

Anticipation of twin tower attacking pillars looming on the horizon around the country may be misguided. A catch taken on the chest or knees will entitle the fetcher to the same attempt at the posts as the skyscraper.

Inside forwards who maximise their return via the mark will be those that produce smart movement and appreciate where the space is - irrespective of their size.

The fundamental shift that this rule change will bring will be in the minds of coaches.

To create shooting opportunities previously, attacking play had to consider more than just where you transfer the ball to. If you kick to a forward inside the 45, he had to have a reasonable route of progress thereafter.

That forward’s run trajectory would likely have to enable a quick snapshot or offload to avoid smothering.

Essentially, kicking long to a forward racing directly out from goal in the modern game has become a blunt instrument because they are swallowed by cover. Additionally, in basic terms, moving the ball through hands also has no effect without a pattern of movement that will place a runner into shooting space.

Triple Adjustment

The attacking mark fundamentally changes everyone’s mindset.

Offensive third movement no longer needs to legislate for additional layers of attacking play. Successful attacks can - in theory at least - be mounted without a single support runner if necessary, irrespective of the cover in place.

That knowledge illustrates the first of three basic changes in mindset that will be preoccupying coaches since the Central Council vote on Saturday.

Teams that can bring new thinking and patterns of play unlocking pockets of space to be hit on the full will gain a significant jump on the competition.

The difficulty of course is the lateness of the hour with that clarity but it is an exciting opportunity for coaches in the weeks ahead.

Secondly, the defender’s mindset also has to change. At all costs, inside forwards have to be denied clean possession as, with the right delivery, a scoring opportunity will follow.

There may be an initial temptation for additional cover inside the 45 but that will be replaced by the realisation that maximum pressure on the kick pass in the middle third is the best way to remove 'mark' opportunities further up and allow normal cover set-ups to be even more effective.

Essentially accurate kicking will be a potent weapon from the middle third but inaccurate kicking will be disastrous for the attacking team.

Finally, and perhaps most fundamentally for the evolution of the game, the profile of the ideal middle third player may change. Over the last ten years that player has become athletically more and more capable to a point where the associated qualities are paramount for team selection.

For a team that builds their attacking plan around creating 'mark' opportunities, the key architects have to become quality kickers in the middle who can see and execute the creative pass any movement ahead requires in minimal space.

If the game evolves in that direction then a coveted clash of styles could become a feature of the game again and the traditionalists will have their poster teams to rally behind.

As the game stands, teams that kick to structured and well manned defences are naive at best and ultimately doomed on the scoreboard.

Styles make fights and if coaches and players can seize the opportunity that the offensive mark presents then we may see an acceleration of the evolution of our game towards a spectacle we will all be happier with.