General Footy Writing: Full points for my mate the goal umpire

by Darren Dawson

The Saints v Bulldogs prelim final was a cracker of a game. It was impossible even for the impartial viewer not to get caught up in the romance of two historically unsuccessful clubs battling it out for a spot in the grand final. The game itself did not disappoint. However, for me last Friday night’s contest contained an added element, and it was only when my wife (a died-in-the-wool Bulldogs supporter) pointed it out to me: I was actually barracking for a goal umpire!

I met Smitty* through a mutual friend, but he is a now a good enough mate that we enjoy a beer together in the summer at our local cricket club. During the winter, Smitty is an AFL goal umpire. He has officiated in the big one twice previously, and his form this season has been such that he was one of the four goal umpires named for the preliminary finals last weekend. Through him, I have gained an appreciation of how competitive the goal-umpiring gig is at the elite level. One minor error during the season and your internal ranking plummets, leaving you with virtually no chance of scoring a finals berth. During the finals elimination process, one mishap means your season is over.

Last Friday night, and to my shame, I found that a part of me was hoping for Smitty’s counterpart at the opposite end of the MCG to make an error. I became a little excited when there was a close “touched-on-the-line” decision during the second quarter which was replayed a number of times by the broadcasters (usually a sign that there is a hint of controversy involved). “The Giesh will be having a look at that one on Monday,” I thought, as I quickly confirmed that the offending goal umpire was not Smitty.

During the match there were a number of close calls, including a match-winning goal by a blond centre-half-forward in the dying minutes that may or may not have been touched off the boot. While sympathising with my wife’s disappointment at the final siren, I felt relief that Smitty had appeared to get through the match unscathed. Now that I am a self-appointed expert at critiquing the performance of goal umpires, I believe that Saturday night’s preliminary final saw no errors.

I imagine that selection night in the goal umpires’ rooms after their training session this Thursday will be a tense affair, particularly when the coach steps forward to name the two main men and the emergency. It is not only the players for whom this Saturday is the career highlight. And if Smitty is fortunate enough to be named, I will be watching his every move. But this time with a sense of pride, not nervousness.

* Not wishing to jeopardise his chances, I thought it best not to reveal Smitty’s real name.

About Darren Dawson

Always North.

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