On That Limerick Minor/Hawk-Eye Controversy…

While initially I was content to indulge my sorrows and simply ignore all news coverage of last week’s GAA action, the last few days of furore and comment over the first minute incident of the minor match leads me to want to offer my own opinions.

I was at the match as a Limerick fan, and witnessed the controversy. For those who don’t know, in the very first minute of play, Limerick minor player Barry Nash struck a shot where the ball went close to the post. Most people in the crowd seemed to think it was a point, but after a bit of deliberation, the officials decided to refer the score to the new “Hawk-Eye” system, a collection of 16 cameras placed around Croke Park, set to use video imaging tech to ascertain the result of debatable score attempts.

The system, on the big screens within Croke Park and on TV screens at home, displays a brief computerised image of the ball, its path and whether it went to the left or right of the post. If inside the post, a “Score” message is then displayed. If outside, a “Miss” is displayed.

For Nash however, it was not to be easy. While Hawk-Eye has been operating just fine in the home of GAA all summer long, this time it depicted the sliotar going inside the post, but then displayed “Miss”.

Cue confusion, from players, fans and presumably officials. Referee Fergal Horan, the man on the spot, decided to follow Hawk-Eye’s word rather than its image, and ruled out the score, much to the grumbles of the Limerick faithful.

In a game where neither side played to their best, the match was level after 70 minutes, with Galway winning out by a few points in extra time. That result kick-started the recriminations, as numerous Limerick players, coaching staff and county board officials insisted that Limerick should have won the game by a point, and moved forward with an appeals process to at least send the game to a replay.

The GAA and the company behind Hawk-Eye have since, after a brief investigation, stated that the “error” was human in nature, with one of the cameras set to evaluate scores in Gaelic Football rather than hurling, which resulted in the confused declaration by the system. The technology remains, so far, above reproach in its workings, which is more than can be said for its human operators.

The objections raised and appeal for a replay seem to be based along three lines:

  1. A Hawk-Eye malfunction/mistake is not currently covered under GAA rules, so the decision to not award the point was a situation judged without necessary written codes to fall back on by the officials
  2. A precedent for a replay on the grounds of official mistakes exists in the infamous 65 minute Clare/Offaly match in 1998.
  3. If counted as a score, Limerick would have won the game by a point in normal time, making the actual final scoreline an injustice that should be rectified with at least a replay.

Unfortunately for Limerick GAA, I do not find anything worth discussing in any of the above points.

On the first, Hawk-Eye is not considered the final arbiter of GAA scores. It is an aid to the officials, to be employed at the head referee’s discretion, perhaps after consultation with his linesmen. The referee is under no legal compulsion to accept Hawk-Eye’s ruling if he feels that it is incorrect.

Horgan could have rejected Hawk-Eye, but in so doing he would have risked awarding a point to Limerick that could well have been a wide – I notice that the hordes of people insisting it was “clearly” a point are speaking with all the benefits of hindsight and TV replay. In that moment, he would have been siding against Galway on the same issue as Limerick feel aggrieved by now, which is not an acceptable solution.

He had to make a judgement call, and he had to do it fast. He choose to accept what the system told him over what it showed, which I would probably also have done, putting the actual representation of the score down to an imaging error.

Having made that decision, he was covered by Rule 7.10 quite conclusively. Hawk-Eye does not replace refs, it merely helps them out if they want.

On the second point, the situations are not comparable. The 1998 game was a clear and overwhelming breach of GAA rules and regulations regarding the very timing of the match itself. In not allowing requisite time for the game to be played, Jimmy Cooney made the “result” null and void. In 2013, it’s a disputed score, which happens in every other game, one of the very reasons Hawk-Eye has been employed. If you award a replay for that, you’re setting a very dangerous precedent.

The last point is also meaningless. Aside from the fact that a Limerick “point” in the first minute would have, through basic chaos theory style interpretation, altered the entire rest of the match, it ignores the simple reality.

Limerick had another 59 minutes to win the game, coming from a point of level scores, and failed to do so. They equalised in the second minute of injury time, after only one had been indicated by the officials. They then even got another 20 minutes, and failed to win. I was witness to their lacklustre and mediocre performance throughout the game, characterised by repeated errors in ground hurling and failure to make the most of possession.

Only someone with a very poor grasp of hurling would have considered Limerick to have been the better team last Sunday, in that minor game.

As such, I do not view the result at as any kind of injustice. I’ll always call things like this as I see them, and I saw the better team win. And that was Galway.

None of that is to say that I don’t have some sympathy for Limerick. I hate seeing such questionable things in an activity designed to be as fair a test of skill, physical fitness and mental toughness as a field sport. I actually would support Limerick’s appeal, insofar as it may lead to some form of legal precedent being set which will inform future disputes of this nature. That appeal, to whatever body, will most likely be unsuccessful, but may provide future clarity.

There might be an element of “sour grapes” I suppose. It’s no easy thing, since this minor team may never play together again, and some of them won’t make the step up to a higher county level.

But that does not excuse statements like that made by Jerry Wallace, the Limerick minor manager.

I’m not sure if Mr Wallace is simply ignorant of all the facts of the matter, or is actively seeking to discredit Hawk-Eye in order to garner sympathy for the appeal, but he is badly misinformed. As previously states, the error was completely human in nature. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – wrong with the Hawk-Eye technology and seeking to frame this discussion that way is at best delusional and at worse an outright lie told for malicious purposes. Hawk-Eye introduction was opposed by some with GAA circles – factions like those that exist in all sports, who fear technology in an almost Luddite way – and they may see bountiful fodder in this controversy, but it is all so much bluster – blame the technicians, not the technology. Mr Wallace’s comments lead me to view the appeal in a more negative light. While I still hope that we can at least get a precedent or rule clarification out of this whole thing, I would agree with those who say that Limerick should now look to move on.

There are lessons to be learned here. Greater training for technicians and oversight of their work for example. Perhaps top-level referee’s can be given basic training in the operation of the Hawk-eye system, to the extent that they can check its settings before every game that it is used? Just an extra level of oversight so that the correct setting are in place before every match.

Hawk-Eye is still in an experimental phase, and the vast majority of GAA personnel seem to want it to not only be retained but expanded upon. It is the way of the future, today.

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One Response to On That Limerick Minor/Hawk-Eye Controversy…

  1. Pingback: NFB’s Fourth Birthday | Never Felt Better

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