Noel O’Donoghue, from the Cuala club in Dublin, enjoyed a stellar refereeing career that spanned over 30 years, taking charge of the 1980 and 1982 All-Ireland SHC finals in that time. Today, the 76-year-old will operate the HawkEye score detection technology when Tipperary and Kilkenny lock horns at GAA HQ...
HawkEye’s Point Detection System is a camera based system that assists officials when awarding points scored between the posts, via an audio signal relayed to the referee within seconds of the sliotar crossing the line.
Hawk-Eye provides real-time imagery on the stadium’s big screen of a ball’s trajectory over the posts to remove any ambiguity over whether a point was scored or missed.
Q: You refereed some very high-profile games at the start of the eighties?
I did the famous 1980 final between Galway and Limerick, Joe Connolly’s final. I did the semi-final the following year, also between Galway and Limerick, which ended in a draw, and I did the replay. And I did the Kilkenny-Cork final in 1982 — Brian Cody was captain of Kilkenny and Jimmy Barry-Murphy captained Cork.
Q: You must have some terrific memories from those games?
Great memories. 1980 was memorable for the fact that it was Galway’s first All-Ireland win in 57 years. Then Joe Connolly made that famous speech — that stood in my memory. In 1982, Cork went in as roaring hot favourites and Kilkenny beat them well. Christy Heffernan scored 2-3 for Kilkenny, which flattened Cork. In the 1981 semi-final, which ended in a draw, I had the unfortunate job of sending off three players — Sean Foley and Jimmy Carroll of Limerick, and Galway’s Joe Connolly.
Q: When did you finish refereeing?
I retired from inter-county hurling around 1986 but I stayed on the club circuit here in Dublin until around 10 years ago.
Q: How did the HawkEye job evolve?
When it started, they were looking for former referees. They picked Willie Barrett, Dickie Murphy and myself. I was involved, and still am, in refereeing administration at both national and provincial level. That’s the reason, I believe, why I was nominated.
Q: Have you done a final before or is this your first on HawkEye?
I did Tipperary and Galway last year in a semi-final. This is my first final.
Q: What will today entail for you?
I’ll get 10 o’clock Mass in Dún Laoghaire, the Mass in Irish, I always go to that one. I’ll leave home here in Dalkey about 11.30, I’ll be in Croke Park well before 12.30. I’ll go down to the referee’s dressing room and wish John Keenan of Wicklow all the success in the world, and have a chat with his umpires as well. Then I’ll go up to the HawkEye box with Dickie, he’s doing the minor match. I’ll sit up there with him and watch them game from up there. Before it’s over, I’ll come down and have a chat with the senior referee Brian Gavin and his umpires, who I know very well from operating with them before, just to refresh what they have to do and when they should go about it. I’ll advise them to look upon HawkEye as a friend and an aid, rather than something to find them out.
Q: During the game, when the officials signal for HawkEye’s intervention, what happens then?
If a ball is coming in close, and they’re not sure, they should ask for HawkEye. They make the signal to the referee and the referee confirms it up to me, that he wants HawkEye to intervene. We review it in the box and when we’re happy with what we’re looking at, we put it up on the big screen.
Q: How does the technology work when you have to use it?
There are two guys there from HawkEye, and they’ll bring up what you want to see on the screen. If it’s a high ball over the top of the posts, the posts will be projected way above where they would normally stop, and you’ll see it from different angles as well. If, by any misfortune, an umpire has made a mistake and he signals a wide or signals a score which we think is wrong, we communicate with the referee and he’ll ask us to review it. We’ll review it and either confirm that the umpire was right or wrong. That generally only happens when the umpire is actually wrong. When the umpire makes the correct decision, we let play go on.
Q: You can tell, for argument’s sake, if a score that’s been awarded is actually wide? You have that power?
Exactly. That’s what happened in the Waterford-Kilkenny drawn game. An umpire signalled a point but HawkEye showed it was wide. So you communicate with the referee and tell him that there might be a problem with that signal and that score. You look at it and if the umpire is wrong, you’ll show it on the big screen and the referee will overrule the umpire.
Q: How does HawkEye work in that case, then?
Every score is reviewed and the HawkEye fella will say ‘score’ or ‘wide.’ If it differs from what the umpire is doing, we’ll intervene.
Q: It must give you a great degree of satisfaction because you have a real part to play on All-Ireland final day?
It’s nice to be still involved after all those years! I was refereeing from the early ‘70s for 30-plus years. I refereed all over the country.
Q: Did you ever think you’d see the day when we’d have technology like this?
No, but it’s a great thing. Ok, you’re a Tipperary man, you might say it cost you an All-Ireland a couple of years ago and Waterford mightn’t agree but it takes all the guess-work out of it.
Q: Noel, we’ve seen some episodes where the ball appears to travel through the posts. What’s the situation on that one?
The rule says that the ball must be between the posts. They’re shots that have gone over the top of the post. The posts have been projected on the screen up to the sky, if you like. If it’s going through the posts, it’s not between the posts, in accordance with rule. If it’s over the post, it’s a wide.
Q: Where are you seated in Croke Park?
In the communications building at the left-hand side of Hill 16 as you look down the pitch, between the Nally terrace and the Hill.
Q: How many people will be in the box at any one time?
In our box, we’d have two HawkEye people, the match review official, that’s myself or Dickie, and then the scoreboard people, two or three of those as well. You might have a technician hanging around in case of any technical faults.
Q: Who will be there with you?
Dickie and myself will operate together. What will happen is I’ll watch the scoreboard in the minor match and Dickie will watch the scoreboard in the senior match, just in case there are any errors coming up.
Q: Were you there for the Christy Ring final?
I wasn’t, I was actually assessing the referee that day, sitting on my own in the Cusack Stand.
Q: It was a rather unfortunate episode?
It was and there was an unfortunate episode with the Limerick minors in 2013, in a semi-final against Galway.
Q: Were you there for that?
It was Willie was there that day. What happened was, there was a football match on the Saturday night and there’s a different set of parameters for hurling and football. They hadn’t adjusted from the football parameters.
Q: Why does it take a little bit longer for a decision to arrive in Thurles than Croke Park?
They’re two different systems. The one in Thurles requires a little bit more time to review. I can’t quite explain why they’re two different systems but that’s the way it is.
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