Seán Moran: Don't worry, GAA’s men in white coats are not out to get you

Controversy over goal in Wexford-Offaly game again highlights challenge for officials

The biggest officiating fiasco in modern times was the “goal” scored by Meath’s Joe Sheridan to defeat Louth in the Leinster final six years ago. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

The biggest officiating fiasco in modern times was the “goal” scored by Meath’s Joe Sheridan to defeat Louth in the Leinster final six years ago. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

It must have been like hearing a siren for any of the Croke Park administration staff watching – or even listening to – last Saturday’s All-Ireland hurling qualifier between Wexford and Offaly. 

But whereas there is always the likelihood of a false alarm, the news filtering out of Innovate Wexford Park was all too believable in a summer which has featured a cluster of unwelcome controversies during matches, all of which have been televised.

As soon as word emerged that a valid Wexford goal had escaped detection by the officials, there was an eruption on social media denouncing the ineptitude of the umpires and referee and linesman who were watching Mark Fanning, the home team’s goalkeeper, shoot a penalty into the Offaly net only for the ball to rebound off the stanchion and the goal to be disallowed.

Interestingly, none of the twitterings I saw were timed any earlier than the RTÉ replays, which eventually demonstrated that the ball had gone in. In fairness to Fanning he was fairly certain and voiced his unhappiness in the aftermath of play being waved on.

It is worth noting the “eventually” bit, as Ger Canning and Anthony Daly, who were on commentary and analysis, needed a couple of views to be sure of what they had seen.

Even the Wexford players in general didn’t question the decision not to award the goal but got on with the match. Yet by half-time the world and his wife knew that a good goal had not been registered.

Embarrassments

First, there was the Christy Ring final during which a point got lost and an incorrect result prompted Meath to be awarded the trophy before they had to play Antrim again.

Then we had the fielding of a seventh replacement by Laois at the end of their qualifier against Armagh, which they won but had to replay once the irregularity came to light even though the offending supernumerary had been on the field for only about a minute.

It’s not unreasonable for people to query the system of officiating when a run of bad calls is made and inevitably the focus falls on the umpires. In caricature a referee isn’t taken away by men in white coats; he takes them away – from outside the pub or in other legends the crossroads. The suggestion is clear: they’re pals of the referee and have no other status qualifying them to make important decisions. In fact, they do attend annual training days, which are held regionally and in Croke Park.

There have been suggestions that umpires for senior championship matches should be independently appointed from a centrally administered panel and not chosen as travelling companions for referees.

The numbers required would probably be smaller than in the present system, as not all 30 referees (12 hurling and 18 football) on the championship panel are in action every weekend. It’s a decent proposal and would elevate the status of umpires to individual officials in their own right.

It won’t surprise many to have it confirmed that one of the big obstacles to this reform is the attitude of referees but this has nothing to do with wanting banter and a designated driver on the way home from championship duty.

Referees tend to work with the same umpires. I know of one match official – and presumably he’s not a fanatical exception – who meets his umpires a few days before every match to go over details of issues that might arise. Furthermore, they do all his matches from under-16 club to senior inter-county.

Independent umpires

Last Saturday the umpires were positioned properly – one on the goal-line to the side and one behind the net – but they evidently didn’t see the ball rebounding off the stanchion. In other words they did nothing wrong in terms of the protocols.

Also watching were referee Johnny Ryan and one of his linesmen, John O’Brien (coincidentally the referee in the Ring Cup final), neither of whom spotted anything to rectify the situation.

Umpires also get things right. The biggest officiating fiasco in modern times was the “goal” scored by Meath’s Joe Sheridan to defeat Louth in the Leinster final six years ago. On that occasion the green-flag umpire was over-ruled by referee Martin Sludden.

Camera angle

Sunday Game Paul Browne

Kilkenny’s TJ Reid was measured in statistics provided by hurling championship sponsor Liberty Insurance as having hit a ball in 2014 at 112 miles per hour. His peers usually come in at anything between that and 100mph.

There’s no guarantee that a ball travelling at that speed won’t be lost from time to time. Try watching even slow-motion footage of fast bowlers in cricket, delivering a bigger ball at the same sort of speeds; sometimes you just can’t see it.

It doesn’t mean that nothing can be done. As has been widely suggested GAA goals should adopt the soccer netting that has replaced the stanchion. Refereeing assessors should also be empowered to monitor umpires in order to identify those whose performance levels are clearly below what’s required.

But the fact remains that not all mistakes have to be someone’s fault. Not even umpires’.

smoran@irishtimes.com

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