Sport Gaelic Football

Thursday 19 April 2018

Linesmen have put themselves in firing line

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

SOMEHOW, I doubt if we have heard the last of 'O'Garagate,' even if a cosy consensus has decided that once the wrong was righted over a disputed point in last Sunday's Leinster final, common sense won out and everybody is happy.

For now, perhaps, but think of the precedent that has been established. The next time there's a doubt over a score, the manager of the 'wronged' team will apply intense pressure on a linesman to intervene. Unlike Maurice Deegan, who had a perfect view of Eoghan O'Gara's kick, another linesman may be less well positioned, but can still expect to have his ear bent. Since last Sunday, all linesmen will be expected to be part-time umpires too.

And if the game is in Croke Park, the crowd (and the aggrieved team) will demand a rerun on the big screen. The GAA insist that showing last Sunday's incident before a final verdict had been reached by officials had nothing to do with the decision to overturn the 'wide' and award a point.

Now, whether you believe that is entirely a matter of personal choice, but it's easy to understand why there is scepticism. From the spectators' viewpoint it came down to this: the umpire was unsure whether or not O'Gara's shot was a point; referee Marty Duffy appeared to signal it wide and with linesman, Deegan then becoming involved, it took a while to sort things out.

While the consultations continued, the big screen showed the ball sailing happily over the bar. Imagine if, after all that, it had still been classed as a wide. Incidents involving disputed scores have not been shown on the big screen so quickly before and not at all if the officials' decision was incorrect.

The reality of last Sunday's incident is that, while it was still under investigation at the time of the rerun on the big screen, neither Duffy nor Deegan could possibly admit to being in any way influenced by the video evidence because the rules don't permit it.

The video has no function in official GAA affairs, other than in disciplinary cases, yet despite denials from Croke Park, there's now a widespread perception that it was used to settle a score controversy. Those who support the use of video technology in such circumstances had their case strengthened last Sunday. Still things are never as simple as they appear.

Not every championship game gets the same high-quality TV treatment as a Leinster final, so are players in a first round tie -- whether in a province or a qualifier -- not entitled to the same technological back-up as those in the higher-profile events?

Also, once technology arrives, where does its influence stop? Say that a foul committed by a forward goes undetected and is immediately followed by a score -- are the opposition not entitled to the same recourse to technology to prove their case?

That would, of course, be unworkable, but it's an example of how using TV cameras to settle specific disputes has wider implications that might at first appear to be the case.

Of course, none of this would arise if the GAA adopted an obvious method of cutting down on score detection mistakes. A second net, fitted above just crossbar height and rising to the top of the posts would settle all scoring disputes, except when the ball is above the posts, which happens in a minority of cases anyway. Besides, TV can't give an accurate determination above upright level either. As for Hawk-Eye, there are far better ways of spending money.

Improved umpiring standards would help too. It defies logic that referees are still allowed to appoint their own umpires, certainly for championship games, while, at the same time, lots of inter-county referees are left idle. And before the usual argument is spouted that there's a big difference between umpiring and refereeing, it's interesting to note that it was a referee (Deegan), rather than an umpire, who stuck to his ground and insisted, accurately as it happened, that O'Gara's shot was good last Sunday. The GAA are quite pleased with the satisfactory outcome to the controversy on the basis that it showed good team work between officials, justice was done and O'Gara's point stood. They should enjoy the calm, which is likely to be shortlived, because the next time something similar occurs, questions will arise as to why it's not being shown on the big screen at the same time as the referee and his officials are considering the situation.

That's the thing about setting a precedent.


BECOMING the eighth county (unfortunately for Fermanagh, they are still waiting for their first) to win back-to-back Ulster football titles was a special landmark for Donegal last Sunday -- and it came with the added bonus of having achieved something none of the previous double winners managed.

Donegal were drawn in the preliminary round of Ulster for this and last season, but negotiated a double title success off eight straight wins. No other county has won successive titles from the preliminary round, which makes the achievement by Jim McGuinness and Co quite remarkable.

It's all so different to 2010, '09, '08 when Donegal failed to win even once in Ulster, losing first time out to Down, Antrim and Derry respectively in their opening games, all of which were in Ballybofey. Donegal's transformation has been the most dramatic in football over recent seasons and judging by the impressive way they saw off Down in the Ulster final, their eyes are trained on some very high peaks.

Irish Independent

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