Hawk-Eye debate is missing the point
One of the most common criticisms directed at the GAA over the years has been its apparent unwillingness to embrace change. In organisational terms, the Association is a behemoth, and like all gigantics it tends to move at an extraordinarily slow pace.
This trait is commonly portrayed as something of an albatross around its neck. But in the context of the current debate about -- as it has come to be known -- score detection technology, this can work to the GAA's advantage because the real truth is, sad to report, not as sensational as the headline writers would have you believe: the GAA does not need score detection technology. Not yet, anyway.
Last week came confirmation the GAA has undertaken a feasibility study on the Hawk-Eye system currently in use in tennis and cricket. According to Páraic Duffy, they will report back to Central Council in due course with their findings. All things being equal -- and putting to one side the issue of cost -- completing this feasibility study should not take long. Because, simply, it is not feasible.
Not alone that, it would be a nonsense to let the debate rage on much longer. One must hope that common sense will prevail and that the GAA will soon drop all pretence that it is seriously examining introducing 'score detection technology' in favour of following a much more practical approach to ensuring correct decisions are made in big games.
As brilliant as the Hawk-Eye system undoubtedly is, and as helpful as it is in the context of tennis and cricket matches, what material benefit would it be to Gaelic football or hurling?
The common incidents quoted in the debate are high-profile games where scores were awarded in error. There were several notable examples of incorrect decisions in last year's championships, most notably Meath's winning goal in the Leinster football final and Benny Coulter's goal for Down in the All-Ireland semi-final win over Kildare.
Hawk-Eye would not have prevented any of these incorrect decisions from being made.
The technology is used in cricket and tennis to make very exact pronouncements. In tennis, for instance, it is used on line calls -- did the ball bounce in or out? A simple question which can be difficult to determine with the naked eye given the speed the tennis ball is travelling at. Hawk-Eye can, with a minuscule margin for error, answer that question. Likewise in cricket, where again it can be tricky for an umpire in real time to be certain of, say, an lbw, the Hawk-Eye system offers an almost 100 per cent guarantee of accuracy.
In the two controversies mentioned, the ball clearly crossed the line, that much was not at issue. Hawk-Eye could not have told referee Pat McEnaney that Coulter was in the small square long before the ball arrived for him to punch it to the net. McEnaney's umpires, though, should have been perfectly capable of telling him that much. Nor could Hawk-Eye have told referee Martin Sludden that Joe Sheridan had thrown or carried the ball over the line for Meath's winning goal. Sludden's umpires, however, should have told him that.
If you think about it, it is hard to recall many incidents in big games where Hawk-Eye could have prevented an injustice. In Gaelic football and hurling, controversies around goals tend to involve an occurrence in the immediate build-up which was missed by the referee -- a push in the back, too many steps, a pick off the ground, a line ball awarded to the wrong team and so on. None of which are questions for Hawk-Eye.
In his comments last week, Duffy (pictured) admitted that the Association remains a long way from introducing the technology. This is good news. There appears to be a willingness on the part of the GAA to cut down on high-profile errors. And there is plenty it could do in the meantime in that regard.
The GAA is in the happy position of having seven officials at every game, a referee, two linesmen and four umpires. One, the referee, is overworked, the other six, sadly, are underutilised. That needs to change. The role of the umpire needs to be totally revamped. And, when it comes to big games in particular, the four umpires should be trained in the same way the referees are (even allowing for the fact that pure common sense will tell you that two umpires standing rooted to each post as a sliotar passes high overhead cannot possibly determine with any reasonable certainty which side of the post it passed).
The referee should be able to ask any of the six officials with him any question he likes with regard to an incident. And if the referee doesn't ask the question, any one of the six should be free to tell him a goal or point should not stand, and for what reason.
Seven competent officials, all well trained and resourced and all free to highlight indiscretions on the pitch, would go a long way to cutting down on mistakes in big games. To my mind, it really is as simple as that.
Sunday Indo Sport