Saturday 18 November 2017

Last of the summer whines

GAA must repair system failures to arrest spiral towards anarchy

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

REFEREES and umpires stand accused of being disgracefully incompetent on a weekly basis; scheduling the championship so that the Munster football champions have to wait four weeks for the All-Ireland quarter-final is unfair; so too is asking beaten provincial finalists to play a qualifier tie six days later; not granting a second chance to provincial winners who lose a quarter-final is discriminatory.

Managers and players who criticise match officials risk an eight-week ban; referees are personally insulted on social media; some players threaten to quit the game unless a more reliable score detection system is introduced; the GAA warn players to be careful what they tweet.

The Allianz Hurling League, as it stands, is damaging to the likes of Clare but change it and counties like Wicklow are aggrieved. Clubs are angry over a shortage of games; Waterford are annoyed over having their senior and minor hurling teams playing in Croke Park on separate weekends; the Catholic Church wants less GAA activity on Sunday mornings because it's interfering with attendances at Mass; some managers believe they should have an input into who commentates on GAA games on RTE radio.

That's a much abridged version of the lengthy list of issues which have arisen in recent months, leading to one simple question: why is there so much discontent in the GAA? And why is there so much whining?

It should be a time of joy across the GAA landscape but instead it appears to be one long summer-fest of bickering and unhappiness. The championships are the GAA's flagship competitions, taking a tight grip on the sporting summer and retaining it through to the autumn.

With no World Cup or European soccer championships, no Olympic Games and no rugby tours this summer, the GAA had the scene mostly to itself and sought to exploit it as productively as possible from a promotional viewpoint.

The games have largely lived up to expectations and, despite the recession, crowds have held up well, but an outsider looking in on the GAA for the first time would conclude that there's something radically wrong with the organisation. Few, it would appear, are enjoying themselves very much anymore and, even those who do, still like to lob in the occasional grenade.

The disconnect between managers/ players and referees has never been as wide, having reached a stage where the majority of post-match interviews concentrate on alleged errors by officials, often expressed quite colourfully. Mistakes by players and managers are ignored, while all the focus is on the referee and/or the umpires.

In fairness, there are some justifiable grounds for complaints, especially in score-detection and 'square ball' calls. There were always problems in these areas but ever-improving TV technology has highlighted them in a way which leaves the GAA with no alternative but to search for corrective measures.

The 'square ball' can be sorted by simply amending the rule, as experimented with in last year's Allianz Leagues, while score detection could be improved considerably by raising the height of the posts to rugby measurements and by appointing inter-county referees, rather than their friends, to act as umpires. Those changes could be put in place quite easily for next year's championship.

As for technology, it would cost over €500,000 to install Hawk-Eye at all championship venues, an expenditure which is difficult to justify. That's assuming of course that it would work properly. After all, there is a big difference in weather conditions between centre court in Wimbledon on a warm summer afternoon and Pearse Stadium, Galway with a howling wind driving heavy rain in from the sea. How Hawk-Eye would cope with that is unclear.

Unquestionably though, something has to change. There have been far too many score and 'square ball' errors in recent years which, in turn, have led to an increase in referee/umpire bashing. The likely knock-on will be that fewer new recruits join up, leading to a further decline in standards and more criticisms in a never-ending descent into complete chaos.

An exaggeration? Everybody has a view and the means to express it so referees can expect ever more criticism. We're in Twitter land now and while the GAA may seek to control what players post, they will find it extremely difficult. And really, do they want to get involved in twitter-monitoring?

Criticism of officials is only part of the portfolio of complaints that arise nowadays. In fact, the urge to direct blame elsewhere is now so pronounced that it's something of a rarity when somebody admits to getting it wrong. Mind you, that applies at official level too.

The GAA authorities still stubbornly defend a system which demands that some, but not all, of the beaten provincial finalists must play again in six days, despite the clear evidence that they are at a serious disadvantage. Yet, when a call for change came before Congress last April, it was rejected by delegates who, we must assume, were mandated by their counties and clubs.

Some years ago, Congress made the ridiculous decision to exclude Division 4 teams from the All-Ireland football qualifiers. What's more, many of the Division 4 counties voted for their own exclusion. It took a season or two for them to realise the damage it was doing when it should have been apparent at the proposal stage.

The more systems failures -- both in competition structures and match officiating -- that are allowed corrupt the system, the more controversies will arise. They, in turn, generates all sorts of off-shoots, some trivial, some downright ridiculous.

That downward spiral towards anarchy has increased this summer. And, no doubt, there's more to come.

Really though, there are times when you wonder if complaining for its own sake is becoming an art form in the GAA. Yes, there are areas which need to be addressed, but not as many as the endless litany of whines would have you believe.

Is anyone out there enjoying themselves anymore? And if something does go wrong, is it always somebody else's fault?

Irish Independent

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