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Let technology aid GAA's stressed referees

By Declan Bogue

When Waterford goalkeeper Stephen O'Keefe began running straight at Cork's Anthony Nash during a Munster Hurling Championship game in June, he did so with the fanaticism of an inter-county player. He also threw the GAA into a moral dilemma.

Nash can hit a ball somewhere in the region of 100 miles per hour.

In this game he caught it flush on the 13 metre line, but by that stage O'Keefe was merely six or seven yards away and took it on his thigh.

He laughed it off with a picture uploaded to Twitter, but others realised that if this occurred in an underage game it might result in a broken leg.

You can't blame Anthony Nash for exploring the boundaries of what can be achieved within the framework of the rules.

Yet the evolution of the game means that the legislation cannot keep up.

It's not as if the GAA hadn't attempted to tackle the issue before.

Earlier this year at Congress there was a motion tabled to insist on the sliotar be struck before the 20 metre line.

The mood and anecdotal evidence in the hall from the beginning of proceedings was that Cork had garnered enough support to shoot it down.

Rather than suffer the indignity, the GAA took it off the Clár. Self-interest had won the day.

But not even the GAA are beholden to their own rules, as they finally implemented the new rule shortly after O'Keefe's kamikaze act.

The end game is a sanitised penalty, and missed chances as Tipperary were unable to get any return from two penalties earned (somewhat dubiously) in the All-Ireland final.

Faced with three men on the line holding hurls with a bás as wide as a navvy shovel, the advantage lies with the offenders now.

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody's views?

"It's going to take a serious shot now to score it, that's for certain."

It justified the decision by his defenders to upend Lar Corbett and 'Bonner' Maher as they went through on goal, although both were marginally outside the large square.

Tipperary manager Eamon O'Shea sold a neat dummy to the screaming headlines when asked the same question, saying: "We have to get better at taking them, is the other side of the coin."

At present, there is a two-tone effect of the rules. On Sunday, the Hawk-Eye technology was called into action to adjudicate on scores three times.

But it will not be installed anywhere else in the country. How can the same competition be played under different rules because of different venues?

On two occasions, this correspondent has acted as a matchday official.

Doing referee at a girl's underage football blitz, a manager ran onto the pitch and remonstrated angrily with me over a '50' I awarded.

A matter of weeks later I was out cycling when a referee stopped me and asked if I could do umpire for an underage hurling game at our local pitch.

I agreed and got a mouthful off a brat who called me nothing but a ... well, you know yourself, for concluding he had got the final touch on a ball that was going out over the endline.

That final incident put me off it and I became one of those that land to a club game just at the start, lest I be caught to 'do a job'.

The point I make is that refereeing is bloody hard.

And you see these cowardly pundits and columnists complaining loudly and insulting referees in an effort to set themselves up as hardmen, but would they take up a whistle?

A recent documentary series captured Meath referee David Coldrick officiating the 2013 Ulster final.

It was a dizzying spectacle, not helped by accidentally colliding with players.

A quick anecdote. A few weeks back, I was interviewing Armagh's Tony Kernan about his season.

I noted to him an incident in their All-Ireland quarter-final against Donegal when an attack broke down and Kernan was retreating into his defence to gain their defensive shape on the other wing of the pitch.

An opponent was slightly behind before throwing himself in front of Kernan and bringing him down to the ground.

You may think it was innocuous, but in the context of a counter-attack, it meant Armagh had one less defender who could shut down space or put in a tackle.

The GAA introduced a black card for such offences, but only an independent observer would have spotted it.

The point we make is that referees need more help.

They already have a bit with Hawk-Eye, but if a sport like basketball requires three men to officiate 10 players, then Gaelic football and hurling could do with one more man to assist.

More technology, not less, is the way forward.

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