Brolly’s Bites - ‘Hawkeye’ trial! Howzat going to work in GAA?

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In 1997 we played Cavan in the Ulster Final. Clones was a blue ocean that day. It seemed that all the Paddy Reillys all over the world had come home to Ballyjamesduff for the weekend.

Eamonn Coleman’s mantra, when he had taken over the county team in 1990, was “Derry teams is far too f...ing nice. Nice boys wins nothing. I want youns boys to be like those hateful Meath b......ds.”

He idolised Mick Lyons and Liam Harnan. For his corner forward, he didn’t really want a 5’ 11” smartass. I suspect that what he really wanted was a 6’ 3” Skryne man with rock-like elbows.

By 1997, Eamonn was gone and we were back to being nice boys. Some would say we have been that way ever since.

Cavan played with underdog passion and won by a single point. Or did they? Television replays suggested afterwards that one of their points was wide and another doubtful. We never complained, because we only had ourselves to blame. Cavan wanted it more and deserved their victory. Since then though, I have taken a keen interest in umpiring technology.

Fascinating Insight

The recent Ashes cricket series provided a fascinating insight into the great benefits of a well thought out umpiring system.

It also demonstrated that there is no point in doing the job half. Cricket operates a strategy where the video referee, ‘hawkeye’ and a referral system, work in tandem. This virtually guarantees fairness.

It is sufficient to note that umpiring accuracy for the Ashes Series was a staggering 98 per cent.

English batsman Alastair Cook posted an average of 127 runs. Had these technologies not been in place, several errors would have remained uncorrected and his average reduced to just over 70 which, in turn, might have had a significant effect on the outcome of the series.

More than that, it would have created simmering grievance, like the sort of deep upset felt by Louth people which will never go away. In Drogheda Cathedral, 100 years from now, the Cardinal will tell the mourners that “Agnes was the last surviving Louth spectator from that infamous day in Croke Park.”

Those in attendance will shake their heads sadly, as though she were the last survivor of the Titanic!

“Hawkeye” on Trial?

Last week, the GAA announced that “Hawkeye” is to be trialled for one league game. It will not be used by the umpires during that game. It will simply be given a run out.

It has already been made clear that its role – in the event that it is used - will be confined to a single issue - has the ball crossed the line between the posts? This is a bit like hiring a prize bull to keep the grass in the field short!

In the course of last year’s Senior Football and Hurling Championships, there were only two significant disputes about points. Kildare players felt they had scored one against Down in the All-Ireland semi-final. The TV footage tended to support them.

Joe McQuillan was the umpire on that post, he had a good view and he was adamant it was wide (Joe is adamant about everything). We will die wondering.

In the dramatic drawn Leinster hurling semi-final between Offaly and Galway, Galway were awarded a point which TV replays suggested was wide. The Offaly keeper and defenders were outraged. But there was nothing to be done. If umpires can’t see a man throwing a football with a 30 inch circumference over the line from two yards, they’re hardly going to notice a sliothar! Galway got their draw and the rest is history.

If ‘Hawkeye’ is going to have such limited application, it is hard to see the argument for it. There is a far cheaper, more sensible, more integrated solution. RTE (As I am constantly reminding Peter Canavan, there is only one national broadcaster), can fit pencil cameras to cover the goal line, which will definitively show whether a goal has been scored. The cost is minimal.

TV cameras already show to a high degree of certainty whether there is a square ball, or whether, for example, someone has thrown the ball to the net. There is already a fourth official. Why not give him a TV set, a pair of earphones and a mike? That way, he can quickly tell the referee “He was definitely in the square Martin” or “He has thrown the ball into the net.”

The exact protocol for an intervention from the fourth umpire would have to be worked out, but this should not be a problem. This simple measure will obliterate nearly every serious controversy. It makes no sense to say this development will usurp the referee’s function, since apart from Martin Sludden, the referee already relies on linesmen and umpires for the things he does not see. Far from damaging the referee’s work, it will enhance it, giving the crowd and the players confidence in the decision-making process and removing the need for Garda escorts. Using Hawkeye on its own, simply to decide whether a ball has crossed the line, is not worth it. To lease enough mobile ‘hawkeye’ units to cover the Championships will cost somewhere in the region of E300,000 per annum.

On the basis of last year’s Championships, this works out at E150,000 per ‘potential’ mistake.

Like the E9 million for the GPA, it is too much for too little . . .