Allocation of injury-time gone beyond a joke

For an organisation that loves to nit-pick at the smallest details, it’s amazing how long some utterly stupid rules and regulations are allowed to exist in the GAA.

The square ball is a classic example. Virtually impossible to judge accurately, this absurd rule remained lodged in the Official Guide until last year.

Flagrantly abused during club games, and poorly implemented at county level, the square ball provoked more rancour in an ordinary week than the black card will create in a decade.

The end of Sunday’s Division Two final between Derry and Westmeath provided a salient reminder of the complete lunacy which the GAA tolerated for so long.

When Derry’s Ciarán McFaul launched a speculative shot, Emmet McGuckin kept his eye on the ball as he raced into the square and contested possession with Westmeath goalkeeper Gary Connaughton. Jumping with one hand, McGuckin got the all-important flick.

Two years ago, a goal like McGuckin’s would almost certainly been disallowed. Our big, sensitive goalkeepers had become so spoiled they enjoyed more protection than some endangered species.

But those who reckon our game contains no more bygone relics like the square ball should think again.

The GAA’s allocation of injury-time has gone beyond a joke. Regardless of how many players get injured during a game, referees usually only allocate a fraction of the time that should be added to the end of a match.

The situation has become farcical. Sunday’s Division One National League final between Dublin and Tyrone was very much par for the course.

At the end of an absorbing second half, which included seven substitutions, a smattering of yellow cards and four injuries, it was announced that there would be one-minute of added time.

The four incidents when referee Marty Duffy stopped the game and allowed players to receive treatment are worth highlighting. When Conor Gormley shipped knocks from James McCarthy and Cian O’Sullivan, the game was stopped for one minute and four seconds.

A moment later, Bryan Cullen was on the deck and there was a further delay of 35 seconds as he got the magic sponge.

In the 42nd minute, an injury to Cian O’Sullivan led to another 20-second stoppage. The last injury of the second half occurred in the 62nd minute when Conor Gormley landed heavily on his left knee. This time the action was halted for 40 seconds.

The combined total of those four stoppages is, wait for it... two minutes and 39 seconds. How anyone reached the figure of one minute beggars belief.

And yet, this appalling standard of timekeeping has become the norm. During the interviews that took place after the game, it was notable that nobody raised the subject of added time.

That’s not a criticism. It’s just an observation. The lack of reaction underlines the manner in which all parties have learned not to expect any better. But we should expect better.

Given that many matches are decided in the last few minutes, the amount of injury time is of paramount importance.

Sunday’s double-bill in Croke Park illustrates this point. After 70 minutes, Derry and Westmeath were deadlocked at 0-15 each. The Oak Leafers posted 1-3 in injury time.

As the Tyrone and Dublin game entered the 68th minute, the teams were tied at 0-16 apiece. After 71 minutes, the score was 0-18 to 0-17. As fatigue set in, there were three scores in three minutes.

What would have happened if the proper amount of injury time had been played? The really depressing aspect is that we seem to have reached the point where players, managers and supporters have resigned themselves to this abysmal standard of officiating. That’s pathetic. For starters, any Tyrone supporter who paid €25 into Croke Park on Sunday should demand more from the GAA. The one minute of injury time wasn’t just an insult to their intelligence, it was an insult to their wallets.

Players who devote their entire lives to training and playing Gaelic football are also entitled to a better standard of governance from those who have been entrusted to run our games.

Those who reckon that the introduction of an independent clock in next year’s Championship will provide a cure-all remedy are mistaken.

Under the system proposed by the Football Review Committee (FRC), the clock will be stopped at the behest of the referee.

The main flaw in the GAA’s rules is that referees don’t allow stoppage time for delays caused by substitutions, kick-outs, bookings, sideline balls and free-kicks. This practice needs to be reviewed urgently.

When performance analyst Robert Carroll studied 29 games of the 2011 football Championship, he revealed that on average, the ball is NOT in play for 64% of the game. That is a serious indictment on our so-called modern game. Bear in mind that when Carroll conducted his study, Stephen Cluxton was the only inter-county goalkeeper hitting long-range free-kicks. The delay caused by goalkeepers coming out the field to strike a free can no longer be ignored. Anyone who reckons the figures involved are insignificant should examine Sunday’s Division One final. Niall Morgan (six) and Stephen Cluxton (one) jogged out the pitch to take seven placed-kicks. From the time the whistle was blown until the moment he struck the ball, the duration taken for Niall Morgan’s six efforts was as follows: 43 seconds, 43 seconds, 40 seconds, 49 seconds, 46 seconds and 46 seconds. Stephen Cluxton took 47 seconds to convert his only free of the game. For those seven kicks, the ball was out of play for five minutes and four seconds.

Now imagine the scenario where Dublin lost Sunday’s final. Is it fair that zero recognition was given to the six times when Niall Morgan jogged more than half the length of Croke Park? In games where every second counts it’s hard to fathom why the GAA is persisting with such an outdated model for timekeeping. But on second thoughts, it’s not hard to understand at all. Let’s not forget the square ball. The madness continues...

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