Since Tom Brady and Deflategate earlier this year, the match ball in sport has come under scrutiny, but the chances of such an episode being repeated at Croke Park on Sunday are slim to none, writes John Fogarty
On Sunday morning, games administration official Mark McGovern will be charged with pumping up each of the 36 match-day balls to the required pressure.
The job rotates between McGovern and the men with whom he shares an office in Croke Park — national fixtures and project administrator Bernard Smith and national match officials manager Pat Doherty.
“They’re all checked and pumped to 9.75 to 10 psi before the game,” says Smith. “They’re normally pumped the morning of the game because you’d be amazed how soft they can go during the week.
“We’ve an electronic pump and an electronic measure to ensure it’s all okay.”
Next year, long-time GAA sponsor Martin Donnelly hopes to see his MD ball introduced to games in Croke Park, but for now in what has become something of a tradition, Smith has ordered a dozen new size 5s from O’Neill’s, half of them branded “2015 All-Ireland SFC final”.
They will be put into circulation for the day with another 24 match-days balls from previous games, the branded ones retained for the senior game, of course. All of the balls are kept in the office. “You put them anywhere else they usually go walkies!” smiles Smith.
It’s rare that one of the teams’ balls strays into the GAA’s official match-day collection. “Obviously, a soft ball might get into the group but that hasn’t happened in a long time. We’d have separate bags that umpires bring out and they put the balls beside the posts. They’re all our supply of balls. Whatever is left over apart from the branded ones will be used again in the National League.”
Requests for balls used on All-Ireland final days are high although Smith often finds the numbers of sliotars coming back from the September decider are low. “That’s understandable because they are so small and are easier to take than a football! But you do lose a lot of sliotars too when they are hit so high. We used about three dozen or so in the All-Ireland final.”
The standardisation of the sliotar core is a priority for the GAA’s games department at the moment with the possibility of microchipped balls coming into circulation in January 2017 to address what director of games development Pat Daly refers to as “an unregulated industry”.
The last time Dublin and Kerry faced off in an All-Ireland final four years ago, Tomás Ó Sé handed the match-day ball to Stephen Cluxton at the final whistle. The Dublin goalkeeper kicked the ball away, later contacting Ó Sé to apologise for any perceived offence.
But according to the GAA’s Official Guide, it is the duty of an All-Ireland or provincial final referee to present the ball to the winning captain at the end of the game.
Because of misunderstanding or the hysteria that surrounds the end of decided All-Ireland finals, that role is usually left to the games administration office. “Some people are on looking for them,” says Smith, “but we do give one to the referee, one to the winners of the All-Ireland final by rule and some to charity.”
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