Sunday 18 August 2019

Michael Verney: 'It's time for GAA chiefs to finally embrace technology change and end sporting injustices'

 

'Twenty-seven seconds after Hogan's catch, McGrath stroked the ball to the Model net, with Kilkenny referee Sean Cleere (pictured) only receiving the information that Chin's placed ball was a point as Tipp began to celebrate.' Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
'Twenty-seven seconds after Hogan's catch, McGrath stroked the ball to the Model net, with Kilkenny referee Sean Cleere (pictured) only receiving the information that Chin's placed ball was a point as Tipp began to celebrate.' Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

How many times must the GAA hierarchy toy with the fate of players, management teams and counties before they eventually see the light and introduce technology to assist referees?

While not always front and centre, talk about the use of a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is always simmering in the background and it exploded into the public's consciousness again on a rip-roaring hurling weekend when several injustices occurred.

Given every duty that a referee has to carry out under intense scrutiny, taking some responsibility out of his/her hands and ensuring that umpires are assisted in their decision-making process makes perfect sense.

Take John McGrath's first-half 'goal' for Tipperary against Wexford yesterday as an example.

It was nigh on impossible for umpires to judge whether or not Lee Chin's long-range free was over the bar in real time when Premier keeper Brian Hogan pulled it down from behind the crossbar.

Twenty-seven seconds after Hogan's catch, McGrath stroked the ball to the Model net, with Kilkenny referee Sean Cleere only receiving the information that Chin's placed ball was a point as Tipp began to celebrate.

The controversy arose as the ball never went dead, but at least the mechanism was in place to ensure Wexford's point was given, even if it was beyond unfortunate for Tipp.

Hawk-Eye was introduced for the championship in 2013 to ensure the integrity was upheld in big games in Croke Park and Semple Stadium and the ball-tracking system has been a revelation, as human error is taken out of the equation.

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The last-gasp free from Tipp's John O'Dwyer in their 2014 All-Ireland final draw with Kilkenny being ruled wide by Hawk-Eye is the most high-profile example of its value and yet five years later we still stumble blindly from one problem to the next in other areas.

Conor McDonald's 60th-minute goal is another instance of officials needing assistance to make the right decision and ascertain whether or not it was a square ball. It was a huge call which VAR could have solved in seconds.

Instead, it was left to chance and Tipp felt cheated. Luckily, it didn't affect the final result and Tipp booked their All-Ireland final place, but the same cannot be said of Saturday's semi-final between Limerick and Kilkenny.

Two seconds of the five additional minutes were left when Darragh O'Donovan stood over a sideline cut which could have forced extra-time for the All-Ireland champions. It went wide, but even to the naked eye a deflection off the hurl of Cillian Buckley was obvious.

The sideline official was mere metres away, but didn't detect it, while both umpires were placed behind the goals expecting a shot attempt. All three are far from blameless, but technology would have detected it quickly and ensured a fair outcome.

Instead, Limerick's summer is over, when technology like the Golf ProTracer - which can track/show a ball from start to finish - would have given a fair result.

This isn't the first time that the Treaty have suffered such heartache, with Barry Nash's early point in their 2013 All-Ireland minor hurling semi-final draw with Galway - they were defeated after extra-time - wrongly ruled out due to human error because Hawk-Eye had not been recalibrated to hurling from a Gaelic football.

Or there was Jason Forde's 'ghost goal' which cost Waterford dearly in last year's Munster SHC tie against Tipp.

Those suggesting that VAR will slow the game down significantly are simply not correct, as there are only a handful of incidents that need careful scrutiny and it's a small sacrifice to ensure the correct decision is made and justice is served to all involved.

As Laois boss Eddie Brennan rightly said on Twitter: "Players are preparing to the highest standards. Let's give them professionals officiating, if VAR does that then let's take the heads out of the sand."

There is too much at stake for those participating to continually allow this to happen and change is needed.

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