I know we're all sick of hearing about the Christy Ring Cup final fiasco. But you have to feel some sympathy for the GAA this week. In the wake of their Central Competitions Control Committee decision to replay the final this Saturday in Pairc Esler in Newry, Meath manager Martin Ennis went on a furious rant against the decision, stating that the Meath coaching staff were "firmly against playing a replay to a game we have already won", a statement that Niall McCoy of 'Gaelic Life' rightly highlighted as a completely ridiculous one.
Meath manager Martin Ennis talking about a game they 'firmly believe they won' is odd. Clearly they didn't, there's simply no argument. #GAA
— Niall McCoy (@McCoyNiall) June 7, 2016
The fact that Meath clearly did not win the game makes that particular argument against a replay obsolete. Not to replay a game simply because one team 'believed' they won it when they didn't would clearly be utterly foolish and totally unfair on Antrim.
A further example of unfairness put forward by Ennis was the alleged 'point' by the Royals' Sean Heavey in the 41st minute that was waved wide by the umpire. Meath claim they requested that the attempt be subject to Hawk-Eye and that their request was refused. The discretion of referee John O'Brien to use Hawk-Eye to review whether a score was wide or not was one which he (or an umpire) had full power to exercise under Part 2 of the GAA's Official Guide. He chose not to exercise such discretion and the point was not given. That is totally different from a point that was acknowledged by the referee and umpires to have been scored but was incorrectly recorded, or not recorded at all, thus affecting the final score of the game.
This distinction is clearly reflected in the GAA rulebook, where within Chapter 7.3 it is set out that a referee's in-game decision as to whether or not a shot split the posts cannot be subject to a hearing or be reviewed retrospectively by the CCCC:
No decision made on foot of any Hearing shall affect the validity of any decision of the Referee with regard to the allowance or disallowance of a score.
The argument that O'Brien should have used Hawk-Eye to review the accuracy of the umpire's decision regarding Heavey's effort is predictably not one that is valid as an objection to the decision of the CCCC to order a replay for this Saturday. Chapter 7.10 of the aforementioned Guide clearly outlines this, and clearly distinguishes the scenario which was grounds for the replay (the error in recording the score) and the scenario that is not (Heavey's wide):
An Objection or Counter-Objection may only be upheld on the grounds...that a score allowed by the referee was not recorded by him or that a score was incorrectly recorded by him, thereby affecting the result of the Game; however no Objection or Counter-Objection may be submitted on grounds that a referee had incorrectly allowed or failed to allow a score.
This is a practical consideration. If it was possible for teams to bring an objection against the result of a game (or a CCCC decision) on the grounds that the referee or umpires didn't use Hawk-Eye, it could lead to a situation which lawyers refer to as 'floodgates', where the door is opened to countless cases of a similar nature being brought. This would lead to an unbearable strain being placed on the resources of the GAA and could, like when the 'floodgates' are opened in the 'real' courts, result in legitimate, genuine and important complaints taking far longer to hear and be resolved as they are forced to wait in the queue behind cases brought by people just chancing their arm.
The GAA has now been accused of scheduling a replay "over a mistake that was of their making" and have been made scapegoats to a certain extent in this way. This is unfair to the organisation.
The referee made an individual mistake in his duty to "keep a record of the scores" (Rule 1.2 (v) of the GAA's official 'Rules of Control').
The scoreboard error? Perhaps it would be worth looking at the website of Timing Ireland, who operate the scoreboards in Croke Park. The organisation proudly boast that they have "been responsible for all the Scorekeeping, Time Keeping, Operation and Maintenance for all scoreboards and video walls in Croke Park since 2002." Responsibility for the scoreboard's correctness at Croke Park, just like at a local Junior B game where the scoreboard is an oul' lad frantically searching for the card that says '1', is arguably nothing to do with the GAA and not something that they should be blamed for.
The fact that the most important participants-the players-didn't know the score was fudged while the press were simultaneously tweeting their outrage as the game approached its dying stages is highly unfortunate, clearly, as Saffrons captain Conor Carson told me. But who is to blame for that scenario? It is not the first time that a referee's view of the game will differ from those watching-even if the truth of the situation is blindingly obvious. It would seem that O'Brien was, in all likelihood, following the scoreboard, probably like the vast majority of fans. And he can't really be blamed for that-after all, like a Balls.ie writer, the Croke Park scoreboard is rarely wrong.
If Meath do not wish to play the scheduled replay, then it should be treated the same as any forfeit. There is no high ground here for Meath to stand on, no viable reason why they should be allowed to 'keep the trophy' while both sides are promoted. The 'everyone is a winner' solution would be completely demeaning to the Christy Ring Cup as a competition and, while no-one is suggesting that it is taken as seriously as the Liam McCarthy Cup, perhaps we should at least pretend that it is, if even simply for the sake of its validity. Meath may feel aggrieved that they are being forced to replay a match so soon after claiming victory, and they may have a point about the quick turnaround. But it would hardly be fair to Antrim to be denied a fair crack at the trophy just because their opponents might be nursing a hangover or have players who are travelling to the USA. If there are fixture-based reasons for the replay being so soon, this isn't exactly the first time complaints would have arisen about this in the GAA. Needs must.
We are all in agreement that the situation is not ideal, but mistakes happen and errors are made. It is time that this was accepted, common sense allowed to prevail and the nonsensical scapegoating of the GAA (as if it is some deity that can prevent any technical or human error that might occur during the playing of its games) stopped.