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TV eye could help cut out ref justice

By Joe Kernan

Let's cut to the chase here. All the refereeing inadequacies which have blighted the championship season appeared to be encompassed in Sunday's All-Ireland semi-final between Tyrone and Mayo.

Maurice Deegan may be on the National Referees' Committee's elite list but he has had a diabolical season – that's the long and the short of it.

And his performance in his latest outing at Headquarters forcibly underlined – again! – the absolute necessity for a TV 'eye in the stand' as a means of eradicating erroneous decisions.

Let's not confuse this with Hawkeye which is a high technology mechanism created to confirm or negate 'doubtful' points – and which failed miserably during the All-Ireland minor hurling semi-final between Limerick and Clare, thus forcing officials to abandon its use for the senior semi-final.

It is nothing short of scandalous that high-profile championship matches, flagship events in the GAA fixtures calendar, are repeatedly besmirched by patently wrong refereeing calls which on occasions are compounded by equally poor input from linesmen and umpires.

The Tyrone v Mayo match had promised much in terms of entertainment value but in the end it was a below-par contest which meandered to its inevitable conclusion after the Connacht champions had pilfered their only goal from a questionable penalty award.

And this was one of several decisions that Deegan got wrong. He may be a member of the refereeing 'jet set' for a few years now but let's say that in this period of time he has not exactly refined his level of performances.

The most infuriating aspect in relation to erratic refereeing from my perspective at least is that players who train hard for months and make considerable self-sacrifices to remain engaged with their counties can find a season's aspirations jettisoned because of a poor call by a whistler.

Yet do we ever hear of referees being made accountable for their errors? When was the last time you saw a referee stepping forth and explaining why he gave a particular decision?

No, they are by and large a protected species with National Referees' Committee chairman Pat McEnaney doing the talking for them just as his predecessor Mick Curley did before him.

I am aware that referees are continually assessed in relation to their competence but I am left to wonder just what criteria the assessors are using when you see referees who are clearly not up to the task being awarded prime fixtures.

It's not just at the top level that refereeing howlers are commonplace.

I was at a club game over the weekend in which one player was blatantly punched in the face and another was kicked.

In each case the miscreant received just a yellow card – I ask you!

RTE pundit Colm O'Rourke, a man who talks a lot of sense, made a good point at the weekend when he suggested that referees like Maurice Deegan merely achieve the equivalent of giving a player a pat on the back and telling him to be a good boy even after the most cynical of fouls.

This certainly does not constitute punitive action, in fact it is derisory.

Last Sunday, Tyrone were denied several clear-cut frees while Alan Freeman on the other hand had what appeared to be a perfectly good goal disallowed because of what Deegan thought was a prior infringement. The fact that there was a temporary stunned silence – and that's saying something in a Croke Park context – testifies to the disbelief with which Deegan's decision was greeted.

Not that Tyrone are blaming Deegan for their defeat – far from it, in fact, since manager Mickey Harte and his players have been choosing their words carefully since Sunday.

But the fact that they lost Peter Harte, Stephen O'Neill and Joe McMahon, all key players, to injuries left them with a mountain to climb.

The presence of a television eye in the stand would go a long way, I feel, towards eradicating the embarrassing sequence of wrong decisions that continue to blight the championship series.

The cry will go up – as it invariably does – that the TV eye in the stand should be in vogue at all games.

This is neither necessary nor feasible but it is absolutely imperative in games that are watched by massive crowds, reach a global television audience and are meant to portray gaelic football in the most favourable light possible.

That certainly did not happen last Sunday and I only hope that Meath whistler Cormac Reilly is on top of his game when he takes charge of the massive Dublin versus Kerry second semi-final on Sunday.

The television eye in the stand seems to work very well within the sphere of top level rugby where the decision to award or not award what appears to have been a try is taken out of the referee's hands at his request.

He is then informed via radio contact just what decision to give by someone who has had the benefit of perhaps several televised replays of what actually happened.

When the decision is communicated to the referee, there is rarely a murmur of dissent from the team conceding the score but then rugby still has a different psyche to GAA.

We might think that we know it all and that no one will tell us how to run our sport but if we are brutally honest we would have to admit that we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot by allowing errant referees to continue to show the sport in a poor light.

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