A FEW days after the 1998 All-Ireland club football semi-final between Castlehaven and Erin’s Isle, the GAA made a connection with Sky Sports for the first time.
After Castlehaven lost to a controversial last second score, where Niall Crossan’s goal was awarded after hitting one post and then the other post, before rebounding out, Castlehaven sent the TV footage to Sky Sports in a bid for a virtual replay salvation.
Castlehaven were desperate at that stage, but nothing came of their bid. Despite their advanced technology, Sky couldn’t give a definitive answer because there was no white line to work off on the goal-line in Thurles that afternoon.
Sky could also only work on the actual film evidence supplied through RTÉ’s cameras, and the visibility of the ball had been blocked out by a player at the crucial moment.
The prospects of any potential redress for Castlehaven was further diminished anyway when referee Pat McEnaney stated in his report to the GAC that he was in no doubt that Crossan’s shot had crossed the line.
In an interview a few days after the game, McEnaney also referred to an FA Cup game around the same time when ITV pointed out that a player was 73 centimetres off side.
“Eventually we will all become robots and there will be no place for honesty and integrity,” said McEnaney.
Over two decades on, it’s a different world now with Hawk-Eye in the GAA. Yet that technology only extends so far in GAA, with Hawk-Eye restricted to Croke Park and Thurles. And it only caters for points.
Cost is an obvious factor with Hawk-Eye not covering goal incidents, especially when there have been so few controversies similar to the Castlehaven-Erin’s Isle game.
In the 1985 Galway-Offaly All-Ireland final, a long-range shot appeared to have dropped well over the goal-line before Offaly keeper Jim Troy scooped the ball away to safety.
Twenty years later, in the drawn Armagh-Tyrone Ulster final in Croke Park, a mishit Aaron Kernan free just before half-time was clearly gathered well behind the line by Tyrone goalkeeper John Devine.
The most recent, and famous, incident was the ‘ghost goal’ controversy from the 2018 drawn Waterford-Tipperary Munster championship match.
Piaras Ó Midheach’s excellent photograph, which appeared on the front pages of most sports pages the following morning, showed Austin Gleeson’s fist, right on the post, but not behind the line.
It offered more compelling evidence than the TV pictures, which proved that the ball had not crossed the Waterford line.
There is no easy way around such incidents, especially with the cost of technology. The Ladies Gaelic Football Association have a ‘score assistant’ to cater for controversial decisions.
But that won’t happen anytime soon in the GAA, especially when there is such suspicion and indifference towards technology.
At Congress in February, Motion 2, which would have allowed for team managers or captains to clarify a referee decision “limited to two failed requests per team per game” was referred to Central Council.
The motion apparently conflated Hawk Eye with other refereeing decisions not covered by the technology.
But a referral to Central Council is often the GAA’s way of burying something they don’t want, or else want delayed.
Limerick’s motion was inspired by the late 65m-free not awarded in Limerick’s one-point defeat to Kilkenny in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
If passed, the motion would amend Rule 1.1, to allow the referee to consult the Hawk-Eye score detection system and/or match official to clarify if any of the team of officials erred in making a decision in relation to the validity of a score, or the awarding of a free, sideline ball, wide, 45 or 65, or a square infringement.
Hawk Eye has been a huge addition, but the critical and ongoing issue around the topic is how Hawk-Eye can distort the playing field — because it is only relevant in Thurles and Croke Park. Is there a way around the current high costs?
The TV camera systems are so high-spec now that the GAA need to start asking if they can roll out their own version of Hawk Eye.
Could the GAA commission a company to devise a system, buy the product and then patent it as their own? It would certainly be worth the investment.
In the short term, a mobile solution — which is usually rented — should be the way to go. When the All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals were staged in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 2017, the Hawk Eye system was operated from a van, which was connected to the temporarily installed cameras around the ground.
Yet with money going to be a factor after the current crisis, many innovative ideas will be shelved.
Yet while football is different, there is an answer to dealing with any future ‘ghost goal’ incidents in hurling.
The new sliotar developed by Greenfields Digital Sports Technologies has a chip which can cater for goal-line technology. A small camera covering the whole span of the goal would synch with the chip in the sliotar, and the accompanying technology, to emphatically say whether it was a goal or not.
Those costs wouldn’t be prohibitive in every ground, especially if those chips developed by GDST were inserted in officially approved sliotars going forward.
It’s unknown if the GAA would ever go that far. But there’s no reason why they shouldn’t when the technology is there to cater for those controversial decisions now.
And Castlehaven certainly wish they could have relied on such assistance 22 years ago.
The TV camera systems are so high-spec not that the GAA need to start asking if they can roll out their version of Hawk Eye