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June arrives and bang on schedule, Croke Park enters the GAA championship. This evening on Jones’s Road, the supporters of Offaly, Kildare, Westmeath and Dublin will make their way to a Leinster football quarter-finals double bill.
If the sight of the native Dub hastening to the stadium as the referee gets ready to throw in the ball is timeless, there is also a radical departure on view today, as the GAA sends the score detection system Hawk-Eye into action for the first time to adjudicate where necessary on the bona fides of scoring efforts from Offaly and Kildare, who start at 5.0.
“We’re over 14 months at it now,” said GAA Head of Media Relations Alan Milton, “and we’re ready to go. It’s been planned meticulously and we’re looking forward to getting it up and running.
“There have been further dry runs and we’re inviting this evening’s match officials in early to run through the protocols one more time and to make sure that everything that can be done is done on the day.”
He isn’t concerned that as is sometimes the case with rugby’s TMO, officials will begin to delegate authority to the technology in order to avoid controversy.According to Milton the system has been exhaustively looked at in the past year or so and has been used to determine the validity of scores in a number of matches in Croke Park even though it hasn’t been part of the match officiating.
“We’ve been able to look at any controversial calls in a number of matches and happily 99 per cent of the time, the officials have got the decision right. Our perspective on it is that it’s there to assist and not to take the place of the referee.”
He says that the GAA is expecting around 35,000 this evening. That would register as a reasonable attendance for two fixtures with heavy favourites in either of them.
The meeting of Dublin and Westmeath brings together the counties who finished top in Division One and Two of the football league and will be Jim Gavin’s first senior championship match in charge of Dublin.
Westmeath’s Dessie Dolan, one of three survivors of the team that beat Dublin at this stage nine years ago, reflected apprehensively earlier this week on things that can go wrong in their situation.
“You come up to Croke Park and after 15 minutes you could be 10 points down. And that’s it – game over. Dublin can do that to you and at the moment in fairness to them I’ve admired the way they’ve played all year because they just come out and shoot the lights out.
“There’s no negative tactics, none of that craic; just great players playing well. The forward line – they’ve serious fire power up there.
“For Westmeath it is important we put in a performance because the reality is we’re now going into Division One and this is the standard of football we need to get up to. The lads are at a stage where it’s important to build a platform and I don’t think getting a drubbing by Dublin would do them any good.”
A year ago Kildare defeated Offaly by 13 points and they too are hot favourites going into the first match.
Another summer institution, the Munster hurling championship is up and running tomorrow with the meeting of Clare and Waterford in Semple Stadium, Thurles