Tuesday 20 February 2018

Joe Brolly: GAA needs a TMO - being treated like kids only increases our anger and frustration

Joe Sheridan celebrates after referee Martin Sludden awarded his controversial goal against Lough
Joe Sheridan celebrates after referee Martin Sludden awarded his controversial goal against Lough

Joe Brolly

A few years ago, Tyrone MLA Barry McElduff, sent me a referee's report from the 1960s. The ref's name was noted as 'P Haughey, Carrickmore'.

His report reads: "Given the notorious history of fixtures between both clubs, before throwing in, I called the teams to the centre of the field and exhorted them to play the game in the true spirit of the Gael. At which point I was struck an almighty blow to my left ear, which rendered me unconscious. In the circumstances, I have nothing further to report."

We are not quite as unruly as we used to be, but Gaelic football remains impossible to referee.


Louth v Meath

Leinster SFC Final, Croke Park, July 2010

Meath won the 2010 Leinster title after referee Martin Sludden allowed a last-gasp goal that should never have stood.

Joe Sheridan - Jamie Heaslip-like - clearly carried the ball over the goal line, an illegal movement that should have merited a free out. Only after the ball had crossed the line did Sheridan's boot appear to make contact.

Furious Louth fans invaded the pitch after the final whistle to confront the referee. Mr Sludden had to be escorted off the field by gardai, who shielded him from the unruly mob.

A stadium steward who was helping to escort Mr Sludden had to be treated for injuries after he was struck by a plastic bottle that had been lobbed at the referee during the melee.

Fifty years after P Haughey's ill-judged motivational speech, two Dundalk men were convicted by Judge Bridget Reilly of assaulting Tyrone referee Martin Sludden, as he left the field after the Leinster final in 2010. Unless you were living on a different planet, you won't need reminding what happened that day.

Joe Sheridan threw the ball into the net with the last play of the game to deprive Louth of a Leinster title. Martin didn't see it and gave the goal. The country went mental. Statements were made in the Dáil. The national broadcaster made a documentary on it. Worse still, a crazed Louth man launched himself at Seán Boylan in a corporate box. Seán, the closest thing we have to a national treasure, said afterwards, "People lose the head at football matches all the time." Little else was talked about for days.

I was listening to Seamus McEnaney on Radio 1 a few weeks ago and laughed aloud in the car when he described what happened the day Benny Coulter's infamous square ball goal beat Kildare in the All-Ireland semi-final in 2010.

His brother Pat was refereeing and Seamus said: "I knew the umpire at the left post so I rang him on the mobile straight away to tell him it was a square ball but he never answered. I met him the next day and he said, 'I had a missed call from you Seamus'."

Paudie Hughes' penalty decision against Cork in the drawn Munster final this year saved Kerry, ultimately put Cork out of the championship and a good manager out of his job. It was obvious it wasn't a penalty. Paudie just didn't have the tools to make the decision. There are countless examples of such errors, leaving us all seething with frustration and anger.

66 RUGBYU Irel_56.jpg
General view as a decision goes to the TMO during Saturday's game

Which brings me to rugby.

I have been watching the refereeing in the World Cup with a mixture of awe and jealousy. There are three constituents to their approach. Firstly, they want to get it right; secondly, they want to command public confidence; thirdly, and this is linked to the second point, they want the process of decision-making to be transparent.

So, the referee is miked up. His words are broadcast. The big screens in the stadium show replays of disputed incidents. But the key to all of the above is the TMO, sitting in front of the TV monitors in the broadcaster's truck or studio.

The basic principle is that all of the officials, including the TMO, can initiate the TMO process, but the referee remains the final decision-maker. For one of Argentina's tries against Ireland, it looked to the naked eye as though the try-scorer was ahead of the kicker.

So, the TMO went to work. The referee asked if there was any reason he couldn't award a try. Two things: Was the try-scorer ahead of the kicker? Did he ground the ball? It was shown on the big screen from the available angles.

The pictures quickly showed that the runner wasn't ahead of the kicker and the ball was properly grounded. The try was awarded and justice was not only done, but seen to be done. The fact that it is transparent is crucial, since even if the onlooker disagrees with the ultimate decision, he can see precisely how it was reached.

Dave Kearney is tackled by Argentina's Juan Imhoff during Ireland’s defeat at the Millennium Stadium STEPHEN MCCARTHY / SPORTSFILE

So, in that same game, the TMO and referee examined whether the big Argentinian had committed a second yellow-card offence by launching himself into the ruck shoulder first.

The pictures showed his left arm and hand outstretched but not his right. The TMO protocol states that if the officials are not certain of the infringement then they will give the benefit of the doubt. The referee agonised over it for a moment. He asked for a better angle. It wasn't available. Everyone in the stand and at home heard his final decision. "I am not sure. No yellow card. Penalty only."

Meanwhile, in Gaelic games, we are entirely excluded from the decision-making process. When an incident occurs, the big screens automatically switch from the action to ads for Super Valu or McDonald's. Being treated like kids only increases our anger and frustration. We feel as enraged and impotent as Seamus McEneaney ringing the umpire to say 'For feck sake Mickey, it's a square ball'.

The TMO protocol in rugby is pure common sense. The referee doesn't have to call for it. If the TMO sees either foul play, an infringement in the lead-up to a try or a problem with the scoring of a try itself, he can alert the referee.

So, the critical moment in the Australia-England match was a heavy late tackle on an Australian by Owen Farrell, the English goal-kicker. The referee didn't spot it.

As the Aussie lay poleaxed on the ground, the TMO directed the referee's attention to what he saw as a clear foul. The referee stopped play and watched the big screen. All of the communications between the TMO and himself were relayed to the crowd and the TV audience. Farrell was yellow-carded. Justice done and seen to be done.

Referee Craig Joubert awards Australia a late match winning penalty during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Quarter Final match between Australia and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium on October 18, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Only one decision in the RWC has caused controversy and that was Craig Joubert's incorrect decision to award Australia a game-winning penalty. The TMO system does not apply to penalties, although consideration is now going to be given to extending it to cover penalties that are scoreable. Sensible lot those rugby types.

I spoke with the RTé boys about this last week. They tell me the TMO would be "cheap as chips" for Croke Park and the other main provincial stadiums. Basically, wherever there is a full outside broadcast crew.

The TMO simply gets miked up and sits in the broadcast lorry with the broadcaster's TV replay controller. Hawk-Eye only applies in Croke Park. The TMO would be automatically available for all live football championship and qualifier games and more than 50 per cent of all other games.

Basically, the only games where arrangements for, say, three extra cameras would be required, would be the non-live smaller Round One and Round Two qualifiers.

The TMO's remit would have to be agreed upon. Obviously it would apply to penalty shouts and disputed goals. These are by far the biggest problem area. There is always a lengthy stoppage when these occur anyway so the time spent by the TMO would be negligible.

The GAA would also need to consider whether to include red card/black card incidents which could result in a player being sent off. The TMO is a spectator sport in itself. Who doesn't love Hawk-Eye?

Let us day-dream for a moment: July 11, 2010, Croke Park. 72 minutes on the clock. The ball is in the Louth net. The Louth 'keeper and defenders are going berserk.

TMO: Martin. There is a problem with the goal. The Meath player has thrown it into the net. Just showing it to you now on the big screen.

Martin: Just so I can be clear. You are saying the ball was thrown into the net by the Meath player?

TMO: Correct.

Martin: I can see that now. Ok thanks.

Decision: Goal disallowed. Free out Louth.

It is, as the retired referees' chief Pat McEnaney said to me last week, "a no-brainer". Quite apart from the fact that it would substantially cut down on his brother's mobile phone bills.

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