Blowing whistle on clock/hooter plan a case of bad timing
It would be interesting to assemble the Congress delegates who voted in February against introducing a clock/hooter system as the means of ending games and take them through the closing minutes of last Sunday's Galway-Mayo game in Pearse Stadium.
They would have seen how, of the four minutes and 35 seconds allowed by referee Pádraig Hughes (Armagh), the ball was in play for only 63 seconds. They would have noted that 67 seconds were lost for an injury to Aidan O'Shea and a further 90 seconds gobbled up by the incident after Lee Keegan held onto the ball when Galway were awarded a free.
There were other shorter stoppages too, leaving just over a minute when the ball was actually in play. A minimum of four minutes' stoppage-time was announced but the referee allowed a mere 35 seconds beyond that, despite the lengthy breaks.
It's unlikely that Galway would have rescued the situation, even if the extra minutes were played, but that's not the point. If four minutes of stoppage time is called, then it should be played - even if it means a two- or three-minute extension, arising from more breaks in play.
Of course, shrinking stoppage-time is nothing new. I mentioned it here a few weeks ago, pointing out how little extra was added at the end of the Clare-Limerick hurling clash, where the difference was a single point.
In fact, too little stoppage time is played in the vast majority of games. Introducing the clock/hooter system should not be necessary to sort it out but, amid the continued reluctance of referees to play more time, it is a clear option.
GAA Congress twice voted for the introduction of the clock/hooter, only to have Central Council reject it once on the basis of cost, before moving in to effectively kill it off altogether last February, just a few months before it was due to be launched.
Central Council made a strong case as to why it would not work properly, citing experiences from trials in third-level games. Influenced by that, Congress, the so-called ruling body, turned on itself, voting to overturn a decision that it had twice taken previously. They even stuffed themselves by a resounding 83-17 per cent majority. Truly laughable.
Central Council armed itself with no fewer than six reasons why the clock/hooter was risky. Fear of human error, fouling down the clock, retaining possession with endless handpassing in the closing minutes, over-analysis of time lost through stoppages, deliberate concession of a line-ball to end a game and worries over systems failure were listed as potential gremlins.
Human error: And we don't have that with the current system?
Fouling down the clock: Wasn't that what Mayo tried last Sunday, firstly when conceding a free on the halfway line followed by Keegan's attempt to hold on to the ball? And there wasn't a clock/hooter in sight!
Keep- ball: As if that isn't happening anyway.
Over-analysis of stoppages: The anomalies under the current system invite even more scrutiny.
Kicking the ball over the sideline to end a game: So what? If it's over, it's over.
Systems failure: Easily solved by having the referee run his own stop watch. He would, after all, be responsible for ordering the stop/re-start of the clock/hooter, so it would be quite easy to combine the two processes.
The clock/hooter plan emerged from concerns over many years that too little stoppage time was added at the end of games. It works in ladies football and was also backed by the Football Review Committee (FRC), whose survey found that 80 per cent of the public wanted it introduced to football and hurling.
So, it wasn't as if the idea were a random idea which somehow found its way on to the agenda. Instead, it was a well thought-out response to an obvious problem. Yet, when Central Council and Congress went cold on the idea, they behaved as if rejecting it brought a solution.
Clearly, that's not the case. And if anyone doubts it, take a look back at the closing minutes of Galway v Mayo.
Of course, a clock/hooter wasn't necessary for added minutes to be played, but since most referees don't play enough stoppage time, why should Pádraig Hughes be any different?
Cats and Horses should have been separated
Ireland rightly prides itself on its sporting ecumenism, with a large percentage of people interested in a wide range of events.
That includes the GAA and horse racing communities, where there's a sizeable overlap. Indeed, county boards and clubs regularly use race meetings as fundraisers, including Kilkenny, who hold an annual hurlers' outing at Gowran Park.
Next Sunday, Kilkenny play Wexford in the Leinster semi-final in Nowlan Park, with a 2.0 throw-in while racing in Gowran starts at 2.15.
Surely, consultation between Horse Racing Ireland and the Leinster Council to avoid a clash would have been a good idea.