Saturday 17 March 2018

Broken rule must be fixed

IT'S one of those occasions when Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney wishes that he was wrong. Just last week, in the run-up to Saturday's All-Ireland quarter-final against Donegal, McGeeney said that it was "an absolute cert" that there would be more controversial incidents in the GAA if technology wasn't introduced. And that's just what happened in Saturday night's epic.

Just five minutes into the second half, when Kildare were leading 0-6 to 0-3, Tomas O'Connor's goal was ruled out for a square ball. But television replays showed that it wasn't a square ball. It was a legitimate goal.

O'Connor was on the edge of the square, not inside, when the ball was sent in, and subsequently cannoned back off the post. And the umpire with the green flag appeared to call it correctly as he reached to signal a goal.

But Meath referee David Coldrick then ran in to consult with the same umpire and, after a short discussion, the goal was disallowed.

Cleary, it was a wrong decision which had a huge outcome on this encounter, with Donegal eventually ending Kildare's year.

But how many more times must a GAA team suffer because of human error? How many more times will a team's entire season be the victim of a refereeing or umpiring mistake? This has to stop.

O'Connor's wrongly disallowed goal cost Kildare on Saturday. Ironically, Meath's Graham Geraghty had a legal goal against Kildare ruled out because the referee adjudged it to be a square ball when it wasn't, and Enda Muldoon of Derry also had a goal disallowed against Kildare for a square ball this summer.

Kildare fans will also be quick to recall Benny Coulter's goal for Down in last year's All-Ireland semi-final. The list goes on.

In the past week -- following on from Limerick's contentious winning point against Wexford in an All-Ireland SFC qualifier -- the call for the use of Hawk-Eye in the GAA has grown but many will argue what sense does it make if the Association spent €500,000 on the implementation of the project?

Has the time now come for the introduction of a television referee at championship level? The technology is there. Let's use it. It's time for the GAA to think outside the box.

If O'Connor's goal had stood for Kildare, they would have then led 1-6 to 0-3, and the landscape of that game would have been changed dramatically. That incorrect decision, possibly, could have denied Kildare a serious tilt at All-Ireland glory.

The GAA needs to accept that it's now time for a change where the square ball is concerned, as it's a rule that is almost impossible to police for the referee, as he is depending on the judgement of his umpires.

On Saturday, the umpire who was consulted initially waved the green flag for a legitimate goal. Many Kildare supporters were left asking why only one umpire was consulted when the second had a great view on the incident?

Nobody is infallible. But with the line between success and failure so thin, this isn't good enough.

At last year's Congress an experimental rule -- it called for the square ball rule to be abolished except from set-plays (frees, '45s and '65s) -- which has been deemed a success when trialled in the National Leagues, was defeated heavily. That was a step backwards.

When a rule, such as the square ball rule, constantly causes problems, the alarm bells should start to ring in GAA headquarters that something is askew. Rules are there to help a game, not hinder it.

It's unfair on GAA players that their entire season can be defined by a combination of a wrong square ball decision and human error. What's worse is that this is allowed to continue when the powers-that-be can amend a rule to improve it, as was the case with the experimental square ball rule last year.

Too often championship matches are being remembered for mistakes. This cannot be allowed to continue. Bad decisions and human error are continuing to influence the outcomes of big matches. It was there for all to see again on Saturday night.

When something is broke, the sensible approach is to fix it.

Kieran McCarthy

Irish Independent

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