Tag Archives: Martin Sludden

Video nasty

For years I was sceptical about the efficacy or need for video reviews in Gaelic games and soccer. It may have worked fine in cricket, rugby and tennis but these are stop-start sports, a series of set-pieces with obvious gaps in which to pause and review the action. There’s no such luxury in the more frenetic sports. Besides, would video really eliminate gross injustices? When Stephane Henchoz handled Thierry Henry’s goalbound effort early in the 2001 FA Cup final, it wasn’t until much later in the evening on Match of the Day that footage was produced to show he had definitely handled it. If a decision was marginal, video wasn’t going to show anything that enlightening and the ref has to make a binary decision which inherently will displease someone. And if an infringement is blatant, they’ll get it right the first time. Contrary to popular opinion, the referee usually has the best view of the lot, mere metres away from the action. A little more faith that they’ll make the right call would lead to lot less angst.

Then 2010 happened, and such highbrow objections melted way in the face of a litany of refereeing clangers. The first one was in the World Cup, when even watching from several metres away on a flat screen it was clear that Frank Lampard’s header against Germany had crossed the line. Yet the referee and the linesman, both of whom had the benefit of their two eyes to see it in three dimensions, somehow contrived to miss it. Worse still was Carlos Tevez’s goal for Argentina against Mexico, helping the ball into the net from a blatantly offside position. In both cases you were left wondering what on earth the officials had thought they had seen. What parallel universe did they inhabit in which the ball had not crossed the line / Tevez was onside? A classic case of justice not only being done, but being seen to be believed.

This is all a prelude to the fiascos we have witnessed in Gaelic games this year. The eleventh of July should have been a day for referees to be quietly smug, as Johnny Ryan awarded the free that led to Tony Browne’s sensational equalising goal. The world and her husband were convinced that some gross injustice had been performed, until multiple replays finally yielded the holding of John Mullane’s hurley. A definite free, and one in the eye for those who think referees would be grateful for just one eye. Alas for the guild of officials Martin Sludden and his umpires were flushing any credit Johnny Ryan may have earned for the brotherhood down the pan with their inexplicable interpretation of Joe Sheridan’s goal. Add in Benny Coulter’s square ball goal for Down against Kildare and the notion that we can rely on referees to get the easy calls right and video won’t tell us much on the hard calls lies in as many pieces as Louth-to-win-Leinster betting slips.

The reactions of the respective authorities to these calamities has been revealing. Sepp Blatter has accepted the need to look at the issue again, saying “it is obvious that after the experience so far in this World Cup it would be a nonsense to not reopen the file of technology at the business meeting of the International FA Board in July.” It’s not often that the words ‘Blatter’ and ‘principle’ could be used in the same sentence, but my reading of Blatter’s objections to technology was one of *cough* principle, i.e. that soccer should be treated the same at all levels whether it’s a Junior League match in Ozier Park or the World Cup final in Soccer City. It’s an admirable position to take, but when the facts changed he expressed a willingness to change his mind. The same can not be said of Christy Cooney.

(As an aside, this shouldn’t be personal and I hope I’ve kept the invective against him to a minimum, but I’m finding it hard to warm to Christy Cooney. On just about every red button issue this summer – pitch invasions, various refereeing debacles, the staging of the Under-21 final at Tipperary’s home venue –  he’s managed to stand on the opposite side of the fence (pun unintended) as myself. When Seán Kelly took an activist position on the subject of opening Croke Park to soccer and rugby, many people objected that an Uachtaráin would take sides in the debate. This struck me as being wrong-headed on the basis that as the only nationally elected official in the association the President was exactly the man to take a position on a subject. Looking at Christy Cooney, it’s a case of ‘be careful what you wish for . . .’ )

Christy Cooney has decided technology is not the way to go. Why? There are myriad reasons such as the difficulty of deciding what should be subject to review or preserving the authority of referees, which are fair enough. But two comments really stick out. The first is that “our games are built on passion. Our games are about the continuous flow of the game. The last thing I want is a lot of stoppages. It doesn’t do anything to help us.” Putt ing aside the implication that a game like rugby lacks passion, why should this be a reason for not having video refs? When infuriated Louth fans spilled on to the pitch after the Leinster final they were certainly not lacking in passion, but this was clearly the bad type of passion which had to be eliminated at all costs. Then there is his observation that “in sport, you are lucky some days, unlucky on other days.” Imagine if Cork had experienced the same scenario as Louth did that day. The Cork man would ultimately shrug his shoulders. If it only happens to you once you’ll have 99 other chances soon enough. The same could not be said of the Louth man, who at the current rate will have to wait 5,940 years to get their 99 chances.

Video referees are inevitable at this stage – they’ve probably been inevitable for a lot longer than this, since the days when Hawkeye first showed a bale being nudged off the leg stump on live television, but it took England’s experience in the World Cup to make me see it. How long will it take the GAA top brass? When you’re lagging behind Sepp ‘tighter shorts’ Blatter in the innovation stakes, something is wrong.


Taking the ref with the smooth

Between the matches on Sunday I asked my sister’s boyfriend if he could check on his Blackberry what was happening in Croke Park. “World War III” was what was happening. The events at the end and in the aftermath of the Leinster final throw up three areas for discussion:

  1. the violence displayed towards the referee
  2. what should be done in terms of awarding the game to Louth or having a replay
  3. the quality of referring

Number 1 can be disposed of easily enough. There’s no justification for the violence meted out on Martin Sludden and it’s astounding to see the extent to which the likes of JP Rooney are doing just that. Anger isn’t a justification for violence whether it be because you’ve been robbed of a first title in fifty-something years or someone spilled your pint in a nightclub. There are tangential issues regarding the response of the Gardaí and the security staff at Croke Park, the same people who whisked Jimmy Cooney off so fast as to make a restarting of the notorious Clare-Offaly match in 1998 impossible. Then there’s the noteworthiness of Peter Fitzpatrick’s response, calmly (or as calmly as you could expect) remonstrating with the ref on behalf of his entire team and physically defending him from the fellow countymen who sought to bring shame on them all. Ultimately, it needs to said loud and clear: it was unacceptable, and hopefully prosecutions will follow.

The second issue is what should happen next. At the time of writing attitudes are hardening in Meath towards the notion of having a replay, and you can see their point. Colm O’Rourke touched on it on The Sunday Game when he wondered whether there would be the same furore if the roles were reversed. The answer to that is: absolutely not, everyone would be chuckling at Meath’s misfortune and rejoicing in how the fates had delivered a wee county from a hemicentennial famine. If we are to ask Meath to make what An Spailpín Fanach has referred to as “a truly regal gesture” then we have to accept that they have the freedom to be merely ordinary and say that no, what we have we hold. As for the Pontius Pilates in Croke Park who have washed their hands of the whole affair, you can see their point too. In an era when the GAA are habitually ridiculed for the Byzantine lack of decisiveness of their appeals procedure, establishing a precedent where every referring decision is up for grabs would be a recipe for anarchy – indeed, Ben O’Connor’s ‘point’ is even being seriously referenced as something Waterford should be able to query. Hard cases make bad law, and they don’t come much harder than this. It looks like Louth are going to have to console themselves with the reality that the back door means their season isn’t over like it would have been back in the day.

(It probably should be noted that I might not be so blasé about the phantom point if Waterford were still chasing their first Munster title since 1963. This would be entirely correct, but that only emphasises that the last people who should be asked for a lucid opinion on the Louth-Meath game are people from Louth and Meath.)

Finally we come to the more long term issue to arise from this debacle, that of the standards of referees. It’s easy to feel sorry for Martin Sludden if you look at things from the point where he frantically demands of a guard to know what he was doing as the mob descended intent on tarring & feathering him. Remember, the bottle that struck a steward on the head was directed at the referee and God knows what manner of items could have been hurled if they were available. But rewind things back a few more seconds and it becomes harder to feel sorry for Sludden. Given what had just happened the response of the Louth players was relatively restrained, mainly because of Peter Fitzpatrick’s firm handling of the situation. There were no Roy Keane-style spittle-flecked tirades. Yet there was Sludden blithely firing out yellow cards, at one stage even looking like he gave one to a supporter!

The extent to which referees exist in their own bubble of certainty is one of the great problems facing not just Gaelic games but all sports with an adjudicator. Seven years ago, I wrote about  a soccer referee who, when watching the footage of a clanger he had made in match in the 1970’s, could not bring himself to say that jeez, that wasn’t one of my finest hours. You could argue this doesn’t apply to Martin Sludden who has admitted his error, but in some ways that only makes things worse because the likeliehood is that he knew he’d gotten it wrong at the time but was too stubborn to admit it. Look at the Frank Lampard goal against Germany that wasn’t given during the World Cup. People watching it at home on portable TVs on the far side of the room could see it had crossed the line, yet the referee and linesman couldn’t. Kevin McStay criticised Sludden for not getting closer to the action, but how much closer did he need to be to see that Joe Sheridan had not kicked the ball over the line, the only way he could possibly score once he had caught the ball. Neither Jorge Larrionda or Martin Sludden should have needed video technology to tell them that the ball was over the line / not kicked over the line. I would suggest that had they taken a few seconds – several, if need be – to digest what they had seen they would have come to the right conclusion. Instead they both made their minds up instantly and insisted that reality would have to bend to their will rather than let them be seen to be weak. As Martin Sludden trotted in to talk to the umpire any thoughts that crap, I’m not sure that was a goal, were ruthlessly crushed by the mental processes that have informed referees since time immemorial.

Referees have got to realise that the tough man stance that may have served them well back in the days before cameras were scrutinising every move are long gone. Perhaps taking your time will only bring another set of problems – you only have to look at the aggro when an offside flag is late to see that – but it certainly would have done Martin Sludden the power of good.