GAA seeing the light on the new yellow sliotar

Proposal advocating change will be brought to Central Council in the coming months

Limerick’s Tom Morrissey in action against Cork at Fenway Park in Boston last November. A yellow sliotar was used for  the  Super-11s games.  Photograph: Emily Harney/Inpho

Limerick’s Tom Morrissey in action against Cork at Fenway Park in Boston last November. A yellow sliotar was used for the Super-11s games. Photograph: Emily Harney/Inpho

 

Sunnier, happier and easier to spot, a new yellow sliotar is about to bring a little more colour into hurling – possibly helping to clear up some disputed scores in the process.

Croke Park is at an advanced stage of a sliotar research and development project due for completion within the next few months, part of which will recommend giving the traditional white ball a new yellow-coloured makeover by the start of next year. The reason for yellow becoming the new white, according to Croke Park, is pretty clear. 

Easier to see and follow from both a player and spectator point of view, the yellow sliotar is also considered easier to judge from an umpire perspective when deciding whether or not it has passed through the white uprights. 

This issue was highlighted as recently as last Saturday night, during the Clare-Cork league match under floodlights at Páirc Uí Rinn, when Tony Kelly’s pointed effort for Clare was waved wide, despite some observers reckoning it had gone between the upright, including RTÉ analyst and former Cork All-Ireland winning goalkeeper Donal Óg Cusack, who said the change in colour “can’t come soon enough”. 

Pat Daly, GAA director of games development and research, believes that change could come sooner rather than later, provided approval is given by Central Council. 

“All of the advice we’ve been getting from people involved in the game, from authority to commentary to columnists as well, is that for feature purposes, it would be better if the sliotar was yellow,” said Daly. “That’s the preferred colour, the best colour, and we would be in line with that. 

“The white-coloured ball doesn’t always do what is required, particularly under lights, and there is evidence there we’d be much better off with the yellow ball. 

“If you look at other sports, tennis had the same problem a number of years ago, with the white tennis ball, which was causing the same problems in terms of clarity. There is a specific blend of yellow that they have determined for themselves 

“It’s a matter then for Central Council, who look after the application of standards and things like that, but it’s something we’ll be putting before them in the next couple of months, I would imagine. And it would come with be a strong recommendation, from us, based on the evidence.” 

The yellow sliotar has been used already in certain instances, such as the Super-11s hurling games played in Boston last November, where the players involved suggested it was easier to see and follow. Tennis introduced the yellow ball as standard for Wimbledon in 1986, improving television viewing also part of the influence there. 

Digital sliotar

Also part of the sliotar research and development project is to improve standardisation by inserting a small microchip into the ball. Unlike the HawkEye brand, a camera-based system of score technology, the microchip in the sliotar, for now at least, is purely for standardisation purposes, a sort of technological trade mark of approval, especially in the playing of official games. 

“We’ve been working for a while now a new digital sliotar,” said Daly.

“What we’re trying to do is standardise the ball, to make sure there is consistency and coherency across the board. And that will feature a digital chip, inside, and using a simple smartphone app, one would be able to detect whether that’s a bona fide ball or not. 

“There is a lot of testing going on at Dublin City University to ensure this standardisation of the sliotar, and we want to be able validate that. The chip would be encased and embedded in the core of the ball. Maybe somewhere down the line to chip will be used for other purposes, but in the immediate and short term, this is only for ball approval purposes.” 

Daly suggested there are still issues with non-standardised balls being used in certain games: “There is quite a mix of sliotars being used, some are travelling too far and compromising the game. That’s one issue. The other issue is where some of these sliotars are coming from, who is making them. The only way we can properly regulate the ball is by having the chip. 

“We’re working towards a date of January 1st, 2020, to introduce that new standard.You can never be sure of timelines when it comes to research and development, but we’ve been working on this for a while, have put a lot of time and energy into it, and all things being equal we should be good to go.” 

Of more enduring concern for Daly, meanwhile, is the continuing problem of Chalara fraxinea – more commonly known as ash dieback, a rampant, fungal disease that can effectively spread like wildfire.

Some 350,000 hurleys are manufactured in Ireland every year, over half of which are made of imported ash, but supply from home and abroad has been reduced as the disease has been spreading further since 2012. That it turn has hit the production line, not least because of the irreplaceably unique properties of the wood itself. 

“The problem with ash dieback disease is wiping out ash,” said Daly. “We are looking at ways to address thus, like developing a more resistant ash tree, and breeding them. And also at producing a more reinforced hurley, which would come from higher up the ash tree, and not necessarily just the base. 

“We’re also looking at a hybrid hurley, which would be a combination of wood and man-made material. That’s still a very live issue, because is the rate of ash dieback disease continues we will have a big problem with the supply of ash.”

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