White coats, white flags, white sticks?
IF the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results applied to the GAA's system of appointing umpires, then men with white coats would be summoned to cart away those who appoint other men in white coats.
Twelve games into the All-Ireland championships and already one of the officially recorded scorelines is wrong. Dublin scored 2-20 against Offaly in the Leinster SHC on Sunday but were awarded 2-21.
Galway scored 2-18 against Offaly in last year's SHC but were returned at 2-19, the crucial 'point that wasn't' ensuring the game finished level. What is it with Offaly? In 2004, their footballers lost a Leinster SFC tie by a point despite convincing evidence that one of Westmeath's points was, in fact, wide.
Brian Morley's controversial score may have changed the course of history as Westmeath went on to win their first Leinster title. Had their game with Offaly been replayed -- as it should have been -- would the season have taken an entirely different course?
As to why Offaly have suffered so much, maybe the gods are still feeling guilty over Seamus Darby's controversial goal against Kerry in the 1982 All-Ireland final!
Of course, Offaly aren't the only victims of umpire error. There have been several other examples over the years of wrong calls which either turned a wide into a point or vice versa. That's simply not good enough.
Nor does it mean that the GAA has to invest in expensive technology to counteract it.
How hard can it be to decide if the ball has gone inside or outside the posts? There are two umpires to adjudicate on a simple matter, yet wrong calls continue to be made at an unacceptable rate.
Managers usually plead diplomatic blindness when asked about controversial decisions from which they benefit, but Dublin boss Anthony Daly admitted that Alan McCrabbe's early point last Sunday was wide. Daly was some distance away on the sideline but could see that the ball was outside the post while two umpires charged with getting the decision right could not.
The same goal -- and indeed the same post -- was involved in Ger Farragher's wide from a sideline cut which counted as a point in the Galway-Offaly game last year. That was even worse since it came off a dead-ball situation where the referee could have positioned himself to watch the flight of the ball in case the umpires called it incorrectly.
The GAA's response to the series of errors over recent years was to introduce training for umpires, accompanied by certification. The problem is that those undertaking the training are there for one simple reason: they are friends of referees.
Referees have always jealously guarded the right to appoint their own umpires. That's understandable and is based on loyalty. After all, if a referee can rely on four friends to turn out for obscure club games on wet November Sundays, then he will want them rewarded by joining him for big championship games once he reaches elite level.
Besides, it's much more enjoyable for a referee to have four pals travelling with him to games rather than driving on his own and working with umpires appointed by others.
Trouble is, the system is failing the players. Too many errors are being made over something as simple and as basic as whether the ball passed through the post.
What's worse, the GAA -- in the broadest sense as opposed to Croke Park -- don't give a damn about it. Louth proposed that umpires be appointed by the fixture-makers at Congress in April but got little support.
Louth, angry over last year's Leinster SFC final debacle (although that was referee rather than umpire error), wanted the 'friends of referees' policy abandoned, but got nowhere.
The logical way to improve umpiring standards is to appoint inter-county referees to the job. There are dozens of referees who are not on the elite championship panel who could act as umpires. If these guys are good enough to officiate at inter-county level, surely their eagle eyes would be able to decide whether or not a ball was wide.
Of course it won't happen, because referees will oppose it on the basis that they want their regular umpires, whom they trust. They might trust them, but can everybody else?
It's ridiculous that the fixture-makers appoint linesmen (inter-county referees), yet allow referees to appoint umpires who have a more important job. The regrettable results of that policy are there for all to see.
Meanwhile, Croke Park continues with unnecessary discussions on Hawk-Eye. It's like having sophisticated and expensive eye surgery when the most basic pair of glasses would suffice.