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Wednesday 29 January 2020

New yellow 'smart' sliotar set to provide solution to goal line controversies

The new yellow sliotar in New York’s Citi Field
The new yellow sliotar in New York’s Citi Field

The proposed new luminous yellow 'smart' sliotar which will be used in next year's hurling Championships will eventually have the capacity to prevent goal line controversies and could pave the way for score detection technology in all major GAA grounds.

Pending approval at Central Council next month, the new sliotar will come into play for next year's Leinster and Munster SHC as well as the Joe McDonagh, Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups.

However, the next phase of the sliotar's development with Greenfields Digital Sports Technology, who have been working on this innovation with the GAA for the past eight years, will incorporate the capacity for score detection.

The use of such equipment remains extremely limited in Gaelic games.

The Hawkeye system utilised by the GAA is installed at just two venues - Croke Park and Semple Stadium.

Issues over price have prevented the GAA introducing Hawkeye elsewhere, with the system also costing roughly €8,000 per match to operate after installation costs.

In its current guise, Hawkeyecan only adjudicate on whether a point has been scored as programming the system for goal-line monitoring requires a different set of algorithms, entailing additional expense.

Invisible

During last year's Munster SHC Round 3 clash between Waterford and Tipperary, Austin Gleeson caught a dropping ball hit by Jason Forde just before his own goal line.

Replays confirmed that Gleeson had comfortably prevented the ball from crossing the line yet referee Alan Kelly awarded a goal to Tipperary on the advice of one of his umpires.

The match finished in a draw.

It is envisaged that the new sliotar could generate data showing whether it broke invisible magnetic fields projected on goal lines and above uprights, making a quick and accurate reading as to whether a goal or point has been scored.

The expected cost of erecting these boundaries is understood to be affordable enough that it could conceivably be installed in every inter-county ground in the country.

This new technology will also provide for the ability to chart a sliotar's movements and changes of direction, offering a potential solution to controversies like the one in the final minutes of this year's All-Ireland semi-final between Limerick and Kilkenny.

With the defending All-Ireland champions trailing by a point, they were denied a '65 after Cillian Buckley deflected a Darragh O'Donovan sideline ball wide.

It is anticipated also that the microchip, which will record the distance and speed the ball is being struck, will make a useful training tool and add another dimension to the expanding field of statistics gathering.

The dynamics of the protoype ball were tested at this year's Super 11s hurling competition in New York's Citi Field, where the speed and G-force of all penalties taken in the final were measured.

Several other major sporting bodies are currently examining this type of 'next generation' ball performance.

Greenfields DST are understood to be in formative talks with the European Cricket Board about adapting their technology to more precisely measure the speed of a cricket ball.

Currently, the calculation is made by speed cameras, although there is a margin of error in these readings.

Initially, the GAA undertook this process in order to simply standardise the sliotar used in games.

Croke Park license a number of different manufacturers but a pronounced variation in performance prompted the GAA to examine bringing the balls into line under stricter guidelines.

Croke Park's outgoing director of games development Pat Daly (inset) first engaged with the Kilkenny-based company in 2011.

More recently, a second manufacturer was brought in to avoid issues around monopolies on production, although further suppliers will be authorized providing they use the standardised core.

Key to the Greenfield DST ball's range of applications is the microchip implanted into this core, an insertion that can be scanned with an android device.

The device will then verify the ball's provenance and authenticity, revealing its weight and a serial number.

Notably, the sliotar is luminous in colour with red stitching, increasing its visibility.

Developers consulted a number of studies - one which led to tennis balls being changed from white to yellow for the 1986 Wimbledon tennis tournament - that proved a yellow ball was more visible against a backdrop than a white one.

They also concluded that red stitching created maximum contrast against the fluorescent yellow for enhanced recognition.

Donal Óg Cusack has been one of the most vocal proponents for changing the sliotar's colour in order to aid officials, players and spectators.

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