Monday 19 February 2018

Lilies injustice must add to digital debate

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Apply the same logic the GAA consistently use to bat away any suggestion about the introduction of video technology to determine the legitimacy of scores and there wouldn't be a checkpoint or a speed camera on any road in the country.

If the Department of Justice issued a statement this morning stating that such deterrents were being withdrawn because it wasn't possible to police every highway and byway in the land and that a 'one out, all out' policy had to be adopted, what would the reaction be?

For too long the GAA has operated on the principle that because there are no cameras in for a junior 'B' game in Horeswood or a reserve league fixture in Clonbur, they can't refer to them for instant corrective action in the greatest sporting cathedral of them all. Democracy is, after all, at the heart of every decision made.

But week after week, month after month, championship after championship, the same incidents keep surfacing with no attempt to remedy them. It's become tedious but also too big now to avoid.

How can you measure the impact on Kildare of Benny Coulter's 'goal' 13 minutes in or the shot of oxygen it gave to Down?


The ball had only completed lift-off from Martin Clarke laser-guided left foot close to the Cusack Stand sideline when Coulter planted himself in the Kildare square and waited, in the company of Shane McCormack and Emmett Bolton, for it to land. In those situations Coulter has, for so long, been king.

From the perfect vantage point of the Hogan Stand upper deck, it was easy to determine, however, that Coulter was in the square before the ball. For some considerable time, too, in relative terms.

Pat McEnaney must have sensed it too when he made the decision to consult his umpires. But the goal stood when clearly it shouldn't have.

Seven minutes earlier, Johnny Doyle's offload to Alan Smith at the other end should have been point number two for Kildare but, bizarrely, neither umpire (among them top inter-county referee Joe McQuillan) could determine if the flight path of the ball was actually between the posts.

Within seconds, TV coverage could instantly illustrate that it was, and by some distance too.

But the umpires and the players are left swinging in the wind, none the wiser, while half a million or more viewers at home can digest it as they like.

If, at this stage, avoiding the use of technology is a practical or technological non-runner, then that's acceptable. But we haven't yet read the report or heard the evidence to prove this.

But the equality argument -- what's good for the junior 'Bs' should be good for the best too -- no longer stands up.

There's a plush players' lounge close to the dressing-rooms in Croke Park but in no other ground in the country. Why is that? Do the juniors 'Bs' kick up when there's no canapes and cocktail sausages on their patch? Do they protest over the absence of a warm room complete with synthetic surface in their own club rooms? Of course not.

These facilities are there because, by and large, elite players play in Croke Park week in, week out. That's an accepted fact. They've maximised the natural ability they have by training harder, practising more and investing a young life in what they do.

That investment demands better treatment than what Kildare got in the opening 13 minutes yesterday, a time when they had this game by the throat. And it demands every available outlet so that the best practices, at all levels, are observed.

For sure, Down were a different team after Coulter's goal stood. That's Down for you. Let the genie out of the bottle. Kildare should have led by 0-4 to 0-1 at the end of the 13th minute. But by the 15th minute the momentum from Coulter's goal had carried Down three clear (1-3 to 0-3) instead. Possibly a six-point swing on the basis of a score that was and a score that wasn't.

True, the nine steps Eamonn Callaghan took to shake off Damien Rafferty, round Brendan McVeigh and reignite the game with a goal on 58 minutes may have balanced things out. But the game had taken a different course by then.

So, Kieran McGeeney makes his way to the post-match press conference and, first up, fields a question about the work of the day's officials.

McGeeney has spent a lifetime in the sport challenging the ways of officials. This time his platform is high.

"We have spent the last two weeks being told that Aidan O'Rourke crossed the line 22 times or 23 times (O'Rourke spent the match in the stands banned from the sideline).

"You are on about margin calls -- whether the ball was in play or whether it wasn't. We have a fella who watches that, like. And they can't tell whether a ball is over the bar, or they can't tell if it was a square ball," he says, before muttering an unprintable description of their work under his breath.

"That's administration. It's a shame because you're taking away from people like Benny Coulter, who shows great courage going for those type of balls and from the work rate of Danny Hughes and Kalum King. Down were outstanding today. You can't take it away from them," McGeeney conceded.

For McGeeney, these Kildare players rank right up there with the Armagh team of the last decade on which he was such a protagonist as a player.

Kildare should take that as quite a compliment.

"I played on, in my eyes not everyone else's eyes, one of the great teams who played Gaelic football, though we mightn't have showed it with our cups but they were a great bunch of lads.

"I would have to say that this bunch are right up there with their dedication and their commitment."

Ultimately, dedication and commitment wasn't enough. Not against a team that exploits weakness like Down, masterminded by a playmaker like Clarke. He works his left foot like Ciaran McDonald once did for Mayo.

The jersey will carry him further though.

So frustrated has Coulter become with the negativity attached to Gaelic football that he admitted this season he wouldn't pay to watch a game anymore. But Clarke is a player he'd surely empty the wallet for.

For Kildare there is a future and McGeeney will surely be at the helm when they set sail again in the new year.

For McEnaney this may be his last inter-county game and for one who is his own harshest critic, those decisions won't make it easy for him to sign off on.

Help in the sky is there however. Someone just needs to reach out and grab it.

Irish Independent

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