Sport GAA

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Colm Keys: 'Use of video technology for referees needs to be explored, not resisted'

Breaking ball

'We're writing this piece now in advance of the start of the GAA championship next month because inevitably it will be a talking point at some stage of the season.' (stock photo)
'We're writing this piece now in advance of the start of the GAA championship next month because inevitably it will be a talking point at some stage of the season.' (stock photo)
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

VAR (Video Assistant Referee) is not flawless, as last Wednesday night's memorable Champions League quarter-final at the Etihad Stadium perfectly illustrated.

Referee Cuneyt Cakir, as part of his review, overlooked or didn't see a potential handball prior to Fernando Llorente bundling the ball in with his hip for the goal that pushed Tottenham Hotspur through to the semi-finals at Manchester City's expense.

The decision provoked debate as to whether it should have stood and whether it was in line with Uefa guidelines on accidental handball.

Even with the aid of technology, VAR and TMO (rugby's Television Match Official) are still exposed to some level of human error in arriving at judgments.

But the point is they are far more often right than wrong and, critically, far more often right than if such decisions were left to real time.

For all of their flaws, both systems provide an effective aid to referees to ensure, as much as possible, that justice is done.

We're writing this piece now in advance of the start of the GAA championship next month because inevitably it will be a talking point at some stage of the season. It always is.

Last year it was 'the goal that wasn't' for the Tipperary hurlers against Waterford in their Munster hurling championship round-robin match, when Austin Gleeson was deemed to have carried a ball over his own line.

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Two years earlier a penalty 'won' by Aidan O'Shea that helped Mayo get out of a tight corner against Fermanagh in a Castlebar qualifier sparked a controversy that inevitably brought up the topic of recourse to video. Pick your own incident after that.

It's been washing up on the shores of championship after championship in this decade since a 2010 high point when controversies in the Leinster final between Meath and Louth and a subsequent All-Ireland quarter-final and semi-final that went against Kildare gave it most prominence.

The vast majority of referees are known to be in favour of some sort of technological support beyond Hawk-Eye, which is exclusive to points and just Croke Park and Semple Stadium for now.

Prior to last year's championship, the current chairman of the national referees committee Willie Barrett said video technology was something that should be looked at down the line but in the wake of the Tipperary/Waterford game he saw a more imminent need for the role of Hawk-Eye to extend to goals.

His predecessor in the role, Sean Walsh, was a strong advocate of its use.

But GAA administrators continue to oppose, not just its introduction but even any attempt to examine its pros and cons in the context of a championship summer.

Late last month, at the March Central Council meeting, delegates knocked back two motions from clubs passed at county conventions referred there by the Rules Advisory Committee that dealt with it, one calling for a trial this summer where television footage was available, the other merely calling on the association to "examine the possibility" of it.

But the response to both motions was that they weren't practical at the present time and the costs would outweigh the benefits.

When was such a conclusion arrived at? What analysis was conducted in making such a determination and how detailed was it?

If it has been conducted, it should be put into the public domain, just as the analysis of a clock/hooter to time games was in 2014.

Those involved in the production of live matches have said in the past that producing the necessary footage to review a contentious score, penalty incident or black or red card in quick time for review would not be a major challenge.

A pitchside resource, as is the case with VAR, would be impractical but the sitting of a television match official in an outside broadcast unit to whom the referee is linked up to could work much better.

Not every game would be covered but isn't that already the case with Hawk-Eye and when the Central Competitions Control Committee are reviewing disciplinary matters?

Finding suitably qualified referees to perform that role would be a challenge but not an insurmountable one given the upper age limit of 50 that currently applies for inter-county officials.

VAR stretched to red cards, goals, offsides and cases of mistaken identity.

With the obvious exception of offsides, reviews could be restricted to scores, red and black cards and penalties where there is considerable doubt, leaving everything to the discretion of the match official.

If it hasn't already happened in a thorough and detailed manner, it should at the very least be explored.

Irish Independent

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