Sunday 16 December 2018

High time for GAA to start exploring the concept of a Video Assistant Referee in big matches

Outgoing GAA directorgeneral Páraic Duffy. Photo: Sportsfile
Outgoing GAA directorgeneral Páraic Duffy. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has been causing division across the water since its introduction for some FA Cup and Carabao Cup games on a trial basis earlier this year.

On Saturday the Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho - an advocate of the concept of another official tucked miles away in Premier League headquarters watching a bank of screens for calls on goals, penalties, red cards and potential cases of mistaken identity - took issue with the protocols surrounding a decision to rule Juan Mata offside in the build-up to his goal.

The margins were so minimal as to be almost impossible to determine and for Mourinho it didn't adhere to its principle "to correct clear and obvious mistakes".

However, he acknowledged the experimental phase the technology's union with the English game is undergoing.

Huddersfield manager David Wagner, his rival in Saturday's FA Cup tie, may have benefited from the decision but he didn't endorse the technology. This VAR, for me, kills the emotion of the game," Wagner said.

His sentiments may chime with the outgoing GAA director-general Páraic Duffy who is not an advocate and, most recently, in his report to last year's Congress, made a strong case against its use in Gaelic games.

Corofin’s Martin Farragher. Photo: Sportsfile
Corofin’s Martin Farragher. Photo: Sportsfile

He feels the scope with which a VAR may be called into action in Gaelic football and hurling would be much too great and "disrupt the flow of the game", leading to frustration for spectators.

"In sports such as hurling, Gaelic football, Australian Rules and soccer, the games are more attractive when played quickly," wrote Duffy.

"That may be the reason why the latter two sports have relied on technology to ensure the integrity of the score, but have stayed away from the more invasive impact of video replays.

"If both teams were to be allowed to challenge even two decisions per game, four additional and fairly lengthy stoppages would occur in a match.

"And that doesn't take account of the occasions when a ref will decide to take the safe option and ask for a video review.

"This would be a natural reaction for a ref who knows that, if he makes a major decision without using an available 'second opinion', he will be criticised."

Duffy could never be described as a Luddite hankering for the retention of old ways as on his watch, Hawk-Eye has been introduced to Croke Park and Semple Stadium.

The dedication of such a lengthy passage in his report may have had its source in the debate that surrounded the decision of referee Joe McQuillan to award a penalty to Mayo's Aidan O'Shea in their qualifier game against Fermanagh the previous July.

On any reflection it wasn't a penalty and the fact that it was so pivotal to the result sparked controversy.

The question was posed as to what McQuillan would have done if he had recourse to an instant review of the footage.

It's been a recurring theme in recent years, most notably after the 2010 Leinster football final.

So much so that the vast majority of inter-county referees are in favour of such a support and the outgoing national referees' chairman Sean Walsh has spoken in support of it and was at one stage planning to compile a report on it.

The issue is topical again after a live TV audience watched in some dismay as Corofin's Martin Farragher was sent off in the very early stages of last weekend's All-Ireland club football semi-final against Moorefield.

Corofin prevailed, diluting the impact of Farragher's dismissal, but whatever referee Derek O'Mahony saw, this incident wasn't within a country mile of being a red-card offence.

Would it be such an imposition to stall the game at that stage to ensure that Farragher's red card was in order? Duffy's concerns over the scope for reviews in Gaelic games have obvious merit.

What would the cut-off point be? Even if it was restricted to penalty calls, goals, and black and red-card offences the body of work involved would still be significant and would be quickly followed by calls to review everything from pick-ups to double hops and illegal handpasses.

Then the trouble really starts.

The logistics are another issue. According to those with knowledge of how outside broadcast units work, instant video review is relatively straightforward but on a double weekend of league football and hurling action, like what's coming this weekend, only a number of venues would be covered this way. But that imbalance is not as great as having Hawk-Eye in just Croke Park and Thurles.

At the very least the next director-general should commission a feasibility report on the potential use of a video referee, setting out criteria and parameters and analysing pros and cons.

Of course there are cons. There always are. In rugby union, a game with many more natural pauses than Gaelic football and hurling, concerns have been expressed about the overuse of the Television Match Official (TMO) and how this is potentially eroding the authority of the referee.

But concerning the fundamental of grounding a try in the correct manner the TMO invariably gets it right. That should be the ideal of every match official, regardless of how the decision is arrived at.

In one of the last major games at inter-county level that he took charge of, the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final between Down and Kildare, Pat McEnaney admitted knowing from the instant replay on the big screen above him in Croke Park that the decision to allow Benny Coulter's first-half goal for Down had been incorrect as he had been in the 'square' at the time of contact. But his hands were tied.

McEnaney has argued for the introduction of a video official ever since. Having lived it, he knows the value of such an aid.

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