Tuesday 12 November 2019

Analysis: It’s worth nothing that blunders like ‘ghost goal’ remain the exception rather than the rule

Waterford's Stephen O'Keeffe and Philip Mahony appeal to the umpire after Austin Gleeson was adjudged to have carried the ball over the line, and a goal was given to Tipperary during last weekend's Munster Senior Hurling Championship Round 3 match. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Waterford's Stephen O'Keeffe and Philip Mahony appeal to the umpire after Austin Gleeson was adjudged to have carried the ball over the line, and a goal was given to Tipperary during last weekend's Munster Senior Hurling Championship Round 3 match. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

It was almost inevitable that we'd find ourselves here, discussing a high-profile officiating error and the ramifications it could have for the GAA going forward.

If you play enough games, the law of averages insists that these things will happen. The only up side of the Jason Forde 'goal' is that it came in a round robin game and it didn't (directly) end anyone's season.

The GAA are also indebted to the gracious attitude Waterford took after the game. Derek McGrath and Co could have raised hell but opted to ship the blow and move on as quickly as possible. But despite the Déise's magnanimous nature, the incident still demands a discussion about how best the GAA can avoid blunders such as the one in Limerick in the future.

In these pages yesterday, Referees Development Committee chairman Willie Barrett acknowledged the error and vowed to do better.

When it comes to refereeing Barrett has seen every end of the game.

He's taken charge of All-Ireland finals and he's been attacked while taking charge of a club game so he's well placed to comment on what can improve the levels of officiating and how best to support them.

He pointed out that umpires and match officials are trained and they have regular reviews. It was he said a "huge regret" that Forde's 'goal' was given. And while not looking to downplay the incident, he pointed out that mistakes have always happened in the GAA.

"It all happens in a moment, particularly in hurling where it is a fast game," Barrett said. "To be fair, there were errors made as far as I remember in every decade for a long, long time. We all made them there's no point in hiding and saying we didn't. We did make mistakes.

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"Things have moved forward so much that there is a great expectation on us to have things right because we made the big call to have Hawk-Eye in Croke Park and Thurles … 20 or 30 years ago what happened, happened. But in 2018 we have a great championship and it's a pity that something like that, where the goal was given incorrectly. It's huge regret for us certainly."

Barrett believes referees in general are open to anything that will help them make better decisions more often and his suggestion included exploring the possibility of expanding Hawk-Eye's capabilities.

As things stand, the system detects only whether a point has been scored or not. But Barrett believes it could be tweaked to include detecting whether a ball had crossed the line.

It would certainly have prevented last weekend's goal but in real terms, how often would it be used? Hawk-Eye was always likely to be called on regularly to determine whether a point had been scored but there are far fewer incidents where it's unclear whether a goal has been scored or not.

As it stands, it has only been rolled out at two venues to date - Croke Park and Semple Stadium - due to concerns over costs and having enough qualified people to operate the system. The GAA also rolled out a mobile unit for the All-Ireland SHC quarter-finals in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh last year.

With point detection technology still to be rolled out en masse, a system to determine whether the ball has crossed the goal line would seem in the horizon.

Another option that was mentioned in the wake of the 'ghost goal' controversy was the introduction of a video referee which it brings it own issues. Would only televised games have a video referee, leaving the TV companies with the calls on which games would have the new addition?

And in situations like the Forde goal, where would the play be stopped and how would it be restarted? There are a number of important questions to answer before a decision could be made either way.

Writing in his annual report for 2016, former GAA director-general Páraic Duffy was reluctant to introduce video referees on the basis that it could delay the game too much.

"There are a number of difficulties with this manner of reviewing referees' decisions. Primary among them is that it disrupts the flow of the game.

"In sports such as hurling, Gaelic football, Australian Rules and soccer, the games are more attractive when played quickly."

"That may be the reason why the latter two sports have relied on technology to ensure the integrity of the score, but have stayed away from the more invasive impact of video replays.

"If both teams were to be allowed to challenge even two decisions per game, four additional and fairly lengthy stoppages would occur in a match."

Referees, he said, would be inclined to take the "safe option" and he noted rugby referee Nigel Owens believes the overuse to the TMO is eroding the authority of match officials.

"And that doesn't take account of the occasions when a referee will decide to take the safe option and ask for a video review. This would be a natural reaction for a referee who knows that, if he makes a major decision without using an available 'second opinion', he will be criticised afterwards."

So there's no quick fix or catch-all solution.

Officiating blunders are inevitable to some extent though thankfully they are rarely as high profile as the one last weekend.

It's worth remembering that those blunders remain the exception rather than the rule.

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