Monday 9 December 2019

Time for GAA to shift goalposts

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The umpire who originally waved Ian Ryan's match-winning free for Limerick wide in Portlaoise on Saturday night is a former well-known inter-county referee.

Pat O'Toole, who retired from refereeing in the middle of the last decade, was at the near post and looked well positioned behind the goals when Ryan's point, the legitimacy of which is being hotly disputed by Wexford players, flew over the top of the post.

He immediately waved it wide but the umpire at the other post, also an experienced official, was adamant it was a point and after consultation with referee Derek Fahy, the score stood.

It has left Wexford with a bitter aftertaste, their goalkeeper Anthony Masterson particularly critical of the officials.

O'Toole came in for criticism from Masterson and 'The Sunday Game' pundit Joe Brolly for not being more vociferous in backing up his original assertion that it was wide. As the umpire positioned on the side where the ball was travelling, the onus is on him to call it.


But the height the ball travelled over the post made it difficult to determine, and that has provoked another argument about the dimensions of GAA posts. The standard goalposts are 10.69 metres high, in Croke Park they are 13 metres while rugby internationals in Croker used posts that rose 16 metres.

There is a recommendation from the GAA's research committee that all posts -- where possible and provided they comply with IS356 safety standards -- be brought up to 13 metres. Posts that rise up to 16 metres require much deeper foundations and are much more prone to swaying in windy conditions.

But the research committee have recommended three different heights for posts, 11, 13 and 16 metres.

In the case of Ryan's point, a higher post may have eliminated the confusion. The debate over the introduction of score detection technology is sure to stir up again as the GAA continue discussions with Hawk-Eye.

The topic is down for debate at the August meeting of the GAA's management committee when a decision on whether or not to pursue the use of the technology may be made.

Cost may be prohibitive, however, and with an understanding that every inter-county ground would have the facility, it may not be feasible.

To use the technology in Croke Park alone would prove divisive, though it has been pointed out that it is not used at every court in Wimbledon. Masterson is unlikely to face a sanction for his critical comments against Fahy and his Wexford manager Jason Ryan was more measured as he reflected yesterday.

Ryan admitted he wasn't happy with the performance of the official on a number of fronts on Saturday night.

"At the end of the day, we have only ourselves to blame. We lost a lead we should have held on to."

Ironically, Wexford successfully objected to Fahy taking charge of their Leinster quarter-final against Westmeath in June on the basis that Trevor Smullen, Westmeath's trainer, was a clubmate of Fahy in Ballymahon.

"I'm sure if Limerick lost, they wouldn't have been happy either. Our goal from Eric Bradley was dubious. There were a number of things, but I haven't yet watched the full DVD because there was only one camera at the game," said Ryan.

Ryan sat down to watch 'The Sunday Game' with his fellow selectors for some "comfort in numbers" but admitted it was inconclusive. "We'll just have to accept it as it is. I don't think it was a free in the first place. Our players say it wasn't a point. It's a pity games end like this. It creates a perception of chaos that the GAA can do without. It looks as if there's no control."

Ryan admitted the sight of players congregating around officials isn't helpful to their decision-making process.

"We should be looking at other ways for communication. I know it's easy saying it, but it should be more civilised. Maybe a captain speaking to a referee."

Of his own future, Ryan said he would be happy to extend his term if there's agreement with the county board and time can be found at home.

"I love the job. They are a great bunch, an honest bunch to work with," he said.

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