Wednesday 23 January 2019

Storm over square ball

Critics round on rule after Geraghty call

THE imperfect science that is the square ball rule is firmly back in the spotlight following the controversial decision to disallow Graham Geraghty's 'goal' as Meath chased a late comeback against Kildare yesterday.

The comprehensive final scoreline may soften some of Meath's anger directed towards Wexford referee Syl Doyle, who was well positioned and clearly led his umpires in the debate that preceded this decision ... yet that six-point margin cannot disguise the pivotal nature of his 63rd minute call.

RTE slow-motion replays, aired on The Sunday Game last night, were able to prove -- on the balance of probabilities, if not quite beyond all reasonable doubt -- that the ball arrived in the square just before the inrushing Geraghty.

On that basis, the score should have stood, Meath would have cut the deficit to a single point ... and who knows what might have transpired.

As Kevin McStay noted: "Marginal calls are key moments in the game. They absolutely do change the game. The Graham Geraghty one ... puts them back within one point of Kildare. It's a game-changer in terms of momentum, and in fact Paddy O'Rourke clipped over the next point so it would have been level-pegging. Are you telling me that's not a serious moment in the game? Of course it is."

The view of McStay and fellow analyst Tony Davis is that Geraghty's feet were "definitely outside the small rectangle before the ball arrived", although the Evening Herald pundit clarified: "We cannot be conclusive because we don't have a sideline camera."

Which brings us to the nub of this perennial debate: when you are trying to track the simultaneous movement of two bodies-in-motion -- a player and the football, both of which are usually airborne at the time -- how can a referee or even his more adjacent umpires be sure that they are making the right decision?


Sometimes it's hard enough for panellists to decide, even with the benefit of stilled video footage, so asking officials to make such a call in real time is bound to cause controversy and probably incorrect decisions too.

The historical purpose of the square ball was the protection of goalkeepers from barrel-chested forwards whose intent may have been only partially directed towards an incoming football. But, given how the game has evolved and the fact that netminders are generally safeguarded against skulduggery, surely it's time to consider whether the rule has passed its sell-by-date?

Geraghty's disallowed goal wasn't the most blatant example in recent memory, and Kildare fans will doubtless feel they were due the rub of the green after Benny Coulter's clearly illegal square ball 'goal' was allowed to stand in last year's All-Ireland semi-final -- a game that ended in two-point victory for Down.

We also had a rush of contentious decisions in the early weeks of the 2007 football championship -- a dubiously awarded winning goal for Donegal against Armagh, a wrongly disallowed Padraig Berry 'goal' for Longford against Laois, and a lucky break for the Dubs when Alan Brogan appeared in the square before fisting a goal against Meath.

On the flip side, wrong calls are part and parcel of the championship script ... and Meath can scarcely wail too loudly after the greatest injustice of modern times, Joe Sheridan's winning goal/try against Louth last summer.

Even Geraghty hinted as much when declaring: "No I wasn't (in the square) -- I think, if you see on television tonight, when I took off I was outside the square.

"These decisions happen. It's probably coming back to haunt Meath after last year. It was one of those things. We're disappointed. It probably changed the game for us."

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