Haydn O’Connor – Umpire Operations Manager
The 2018 season brought significant change to the umpiring department with the Elsternwick Park redevelopment, a new administration, a staff restructure, expansion of the women’s competition & the launch of ‘A New Era’ on the newly-established VAFA Umpires social media platforms.
Due to the Elsternwick Park redevelopment, the umpiring group was unable to train at home from January to April. The fitness staff, led by Gavin De Kretser, must be applauded for their tireless work over this period. Alternate venues used throughout this time included Dendy Park in Brighton and Widdop Crescent in Hampton on Wednesday nights. Furthermore, due to logistics constraints set by council, Sunday morning training was trialled which included running groups in Carlton.
The group returned to Elsternwick Park in April and trained on Monday and Wednesday nights. Whilst this had a minor impact on overall numbers, the umpiring community, who now had access to one of the premium facilities in the region, adapted admirably. A huge thank you also to Terry Gunn who continues to provide a wonderful option to umpires in our Western Region based at Westbourne Grammar School.
While historically having a strong relationship with junior feeders, the VAFA Umpiring Department looked to strengthen their bonds with the South Metro Junior Football League (SMJFL) whereby their umpiring group trained at Elsternwick Park on Monday nights. In a region so heavily diluted, the ability to share resources is a necessity, with this joint training session bringing expanded numbers and a youthful presence to the group. A structured pathway is in place for all those aspiring in the Bayside area and this structure will be in place for those with our Yarra JFL feeders from 2019 onwards.
The launch of the VAFA Portal brought the umpiring department closer to the clubs with accessible viewing of an interpretations video, access to feedback forms & the ability to view umpire selection criteria.
The field umpiring group, with Tony Hales as Head Coach, was supported by Mark Gibson, Guy Hexter & Zach Schloeffel in various roles to provide a point of contact for all umpires throughout the competition. They were assisted by match day observers Stephen Kong, Daniel Silfo, Bruce McGregor, Rob Hansen & Frank Robinson who willingly spent their Saturdays attending various venues and providing feedback to umpires.
We prioritised regenerating the field umpiring ranks after four of the 2017 Premier and Premier B Grand Final panels did not return due to retirement, injury or promotion to the VFL List. It was important to fill these voids with experienced umpires while also providing opportunity for young talent throughout the home and away fixture and finals.
The expansion of the women’s competition meant 141 games were filled each week by VAFA registered umpires. Over 115 umpires officiated at least one match in the VAFA Wilson women’s competition, with a greater emphasis on the premier squad for men’s ‘doubling up’ or assisting in these competitions when the fixture allowed.
The promotion of select VAFA umpires to the VFL list proved a challenge for Boundary Umpiring Coach, Ryan O’Shea. Irrespective of the loss of key personnel, the improvement amongst the emerging young umpires was apparent across the season – a reflection of Ryan’s work and his collaboration with newly-appointed coaches Asha Hinton and Jack Punshon. The expansion of the women’s competition also gave the boundary umpiring group greater exposure to finals football, an experience very few umpires have the privilege to be part of.”
The goal umpires continue to be a major strength of the VAFA Umpiring Department, with Bernard Jephson again building on his recruiting and reaching an excess of 90 goal umpires for the second year in a row. Charlie May joined Shane Herbert and John Hall as development coaches and the experience and strength of the group was further exemplified with all umpires appointed to officiate the William Buck Premier Women’s Grand Final & representative games under 22 years of age.
The VAFA Umpiring Representative Program was a new initiative in 2018, with 18 umpires being involved. This was the first time boundary & goal umpires were taken interstate for the Big V matches. These umpires were subject to an AFL experience and access to AFL game-day coaching at Adelaide Oval. All umpires for the four representative matches were presented at the Big V dinners and a part of the football program.
The VAFA umpiring department was complimented by La Trobe University placement students Morgan Hughes & Matthew Azzopardi, who went above and beyond on numerous occasions to assist the administration on a week to week basis.
The VAFAUA, under the leadership of Owen Hinson, should be commended for their tireless work in continuing to provide the VAFA Umpires with a family friendly and socially vibrant culture. Their support cannot be underestimated, and we sincerely thank their entire committee for their efforts.
The genuine relationship which exists between the umpiring collective and VAFA clubs is a great facet of our association. Our sincere appreciation goes to all clubs who assist in facilitating games and who make our umpires an integral part of the game-day community.
Thank you to the VAFA Football Operations Department, consisting of Sam Confait, Shona MacInnes & Mikala Sykes, for their continued guidance and support. I am sincerely grateful to work alongside such professional and driven individuals both within their individual portfolios and collectively. To the Umpiring Sub-Committee, Nigel Credlin, Mervyn Monty & VAFA CEO Brett Connell, their contribution to the strategic planning and future of VAFA Umpiring is for the betterment of all who participate in our association. With this support and enthusiasm to continue driving VAFA umpiring into the future, I look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.