Seán Moran: A brief history of GAA score detection

It must be realised that installing high-tech systems is subject to cost-benefit analysis

Hawkeye is costly enough already for the GAA and is more important than goal-line technology in the long run. Photo: Inpho

Hawkeye is costly enough already for the GAA and is more important than goal-line technology in the long run. Photo: Inpho

 

There was a time when Sky Sports was held as some sort of mystical presence within the GAA. Back in the 1990s, there was much pining after the almost magical effects that would result if Gaelic games were ‘marketed’ the way the satellite channel marketed English Premiership soccer.

This overlooked the vast discrepancy in what many people don’t like to call ‘the product’. In those far-off days the idea of GAA championships actually being on subscription television would have appeared far-fetched but here we are.

In the light of the tumult caused by Sunday’s award of an invalid score to Tipperary in their match with Waterford, it is also worth recalling that 20 years ago Sky was also looked towards to sprinkle the gold-dust of its technology on such problems for the GAA.

Dublin football champions Erin’s Isle beat their Cork counterparts Castlehaven in an All-Ireland club semi-final with a last-minute goal by Niall Crossan, whose shot hit one post and then, the other with one of Pat McEnaney’s umpires, Francie O’Rourke, decreeing that it had crossed the line in between.

Castlehaven lodged an objection. The late Down captain Joe Lennon, then a pundit, said that it would have defied the laws of physics for the ball to have actually crossed the line.

There was a full week of dispute, claim and counter-claim and all sorts of technologies were paraded as the solution to the issue. Hopes were high that Sky Sports’ Virtual Replay technology, developed by an Israeli company Orad Hi-Tech could resolve the matter but Sky were cautious given that their cameras hadn’t shot the original footage.

Programming the system for goal-line monitoring would require a different set of algorithms, entailing additional cost for very occasional usage

Tim O’Connor, then RTÉ Television’s Head of Sport, was dubious given that the co-ordinates wouldn’t be the same and a ball spinning off a post would be difficult to adjudicate. Orad harboured no such doubts but it was a less glamorous broadcast technology that resolved matters.

Willie Fogarty’s footage for The Munster Game, broadcast on Limerick Multi-Channel and shot from farther down the goal-line than RTÉ’s cameras, showed the ball swerving across the line on its trajectory from one post to the other.

In the past 20 years technology has been harnessed to assist with difficult calls in most sports and Gaelic games have been no different. What can sometimes be forgotten is that this assistance is not free and therefore has to be considered on a cost-benefit basis.

There has rightly been an outpouring of sympathy for Waterford’s misfortune in being spuriously held to have conceded a goal but the remedies aren’t that simple. Goal-line incidents are as rare as hen’s teeth in football and hurling and so the suggestion that goal-line detection be added to Hawk-Eye’s brief to adjudicate points is unrealistic.

Programming the system for goal-line monitoring would require a different set of algorithms, entailing additional cost for very occasional usage.

Publicity in the wake of Sunday’s match brought minds back eight years to the Meath-Louth Leinster final but that score – Joe Sheridan’s pushover goal – was controversial not because of suggestions that the ball hadn’t crossed the line, which it clearly had, but because of the manner in which it had been carried.

What funds are available to address such matters are far more likely to be spent on trying to spread the availability of Hawk-Eye to venues beyond Croke Park and Semple Stadium.

That roll-out would cost in the region of €3m allowing that there is a range of options when it comes to the system – the one in Thurles is, as spectators will have noticed, more basic than the one in Croke Park. The system is also costly to operate, about €7,000 or €8,000 per match.

Of course the traditional score-detection system of umpires, for all the bad press of recent days, isn’t obsolete

It’s expensive to install because not all grounds have a symmetrical design with stands on either side of the goal and so camera positions have to be constructed. Ironically, Cork’s Páirc Uí Chaoimh, although a brand-new stadium with appropriate positions in-built, hasn’t yet settled on a score detection installation, as the stadium costs are being finalised.

The new provincial hurling round robins have been a great success but the use of home venues creates demand in a greater number of grounds than under the old format, which could see sometimes only two and on occasion just one venue used in an entire Munster championship.

Of course the traditional score-detection system of umpires, for all the bad press of recent days, isn’t obsolete. Training has improved and it’s sometimes forgotten that these modules, generally well attended, have to be built into the lives of people who are probably the least compensated part of a match-day occasion.

Amateurism in its pure sense is no excuse for it in more colloquial usage and as well as training there has to be scrutiny and accountability but followers of the games also need to calm down, as in the admirably Zen reaction of Waterford’s Derek McGrath and Pauric Mahony on Sunday.

There will be errors in the adjudication of scores and that is the inescapable reality of all sports. Nonetheless this can never be a basis for challenging the result of a match and this was accepted by the GAA’s independent arbitration tribunal, the DRA, which stated in the 2005 application from Limerick club Fr Casey’s: “How an error at any particular stage in a game will affect the outcome is something of an imponderable, and the fact that injustice will occasionally result from a blanket protection of referees’ decisions is a consequence that must be borne by all. It is the lesser evil.”

smoran@irishtimes.com

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