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Hawk-Eye points the way forward

SPECSAVERS to sponsor Hawk-Eye ... how very apt. Or, if you'll pardon the obvious ocular pun, how very eye-catching.

The leading opticians clearly have a far-seeing approach to enhancing their own brand image, as can be seen from several previous forays into the realm of sports sponsorship – they have already spawned a million bad jokes through their sponsorship of referees in ladies Gaelic football, Scottish soccer and RaboDirect PRO12 rugby.

Now they've branched into score detection technology, GAA-style, with the result that all those dodgy points or debatable wides that have infuriated generations of football and hurling fans will be a thing of the past from this summer on.

That, at least, is the theory and given the success of Hawk-Eye technology in other sports – notably tennis and cricket – there is no reason to suspect that it won't prove a big success for the GAA too.

But it's worth stressing a few points about the new system.

Firstly, for the next two years at least, it will only apply to matches in Croke Park. Thus, debatable calls that occur far away from HQ – such as Shane Walsh's 'wide' for the Galway U21s against Kildare in Tullamore last Saturday – will not be clarified and/or corrected on the spot.

Secondly, Hawk-Eye will not be used to adjudicate on 'square ball' goals or Joe Sheridan 'tries' or even the fundamental matter of whether that all-important spherical object has crossed that line of whitewash between both uprights. In other words, it will only rule on points, not goals.

This is not meant as a criticism of the new points detection system to be unveiled when the Kildare and Offaly footballers square off on June 1. It is merely to underline that Hawk-Eye won't – or can't – resolve the full gamut of dodgy score controversies.

However, presuming it works to plan without major glitches, or frustrating delays, it will be a huge positive for the GAA and a welcome step into the 21st century. (On the subject of time delays, GAA commercial and stadium director Peter McKenna yesterday said Hawk-Eye decisions will be "instantaneous but, because there's one or two human interventions in it, you're into 10 to 20 seconds' time span.")

Conflicting

Some sports have already embraced new technology with singular success – rugby's use of the TMO (television match official) being the most obvious example. Others have been far slower to act – specifically soccer, where a raft of contrary positions have been adopted by the blazer brigade.

Thus, you have the conflicting scenarios whereby the English Premier League will embrace Hawk-Eye next season; while FIFA's flip-flopping president, Sepp Blatter, has become a latter-day convert with goalline technology set to be used at next year's World Cup finals in Brazil; whereas UEFA chief Michel Platini is implacably opposed.

Many of you will remember the previous incarnation of Platini – the original Eamon Dunphy yardstick of what constitutes a "good player, not a great player". This column begs to differ: the French maestro was a football visionary on the field. Off it, however, he's entirely blinkered on the subject of goal-line technology.

A few years back he claimed it would usher in the era of "PlayStation football". As recently as last month, he was declaring it too expensive for the Champions League, adding: "It would cost around 54 million euros over five years for this technology, so it's quite expensive for the sort of mistake which happens once every 40 years."

Once every 40 years? To suggest there were no such incidents between Geoff Hurst's (in)famous World Cup final goal in 1966 and Frank Lampard's wrongly disallowed goal between the same two countries at the 2006 World Cup is – well – stretching credulity.

Intriguingly, Platini went on to profess himself "very happy" with the five-man refereeing system currently applied in the Champions League, where the referee has the benefit of two extra pairs of eyes behind each goal.

He would say that, wouldn't he? Most soccer watchers have long since concluded that these two extra officials are about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Not long after Platini said the above, we had yet another example of goal-line official inertia when Borussia Dortmund scrambled home an offside winner against Malaga in the death throes of their Champions' League quarter-final.

Legitimacy

Here's the thing: Hawk-Eye technology could not have been used to disprove the legitimacy of the above goal; just as it couldn't have disallowed Benny Coulter's square ball goal for Down against Kildare in 2010, or allowed Tomás O'Connor's wrongly scratched goal for Kildare against Donegal in 2011.

These often pivotal decisions will remain open to the vagaries of human fallability from match officials, be they referees or umpires or linesmen. But where a system can be used to prove – conclusively – that a point is a point or a wide is a wide (or a goal is a goal in soccer), then it's only fair and proper to embrace it.

The notion that UEFA "can't afford" to use it for the Champions League is a fallacy. And just because Hawk-Eye will never be affordable for your humble junior club football or hurling match shouldn't be used as a bar against embracing technology for your flagship games.

The GAA has realised that and should be applauded for ushering in the era of, to paraphrase Monsieur Platini, the All-Ireland PlayStation Championships.


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