Time to hang up the Whistle!


The first question that I always get when I mention to someone that I umpire football is ‘how did you get into that’? It’s a question that all umpires get, and their answers vary. Some say for the fitness, while others say it was for a little bit of pocket money. Me, it was simple. I was not the best footballer. After 150 games of junior football, I knew that it was not going to end well for me if I continued on to under 18’s football.  

So I took up the whistle. 
In some ways I started a little bit later than others, I was 18. There were a few guys that had been umpiring for 4 years by that stage and doing senior football. For me it would be 3 years before I would get my first Senior game, and on reflection, I was glad about that. Before making my senior debut I had already umpired about 150 games in the Reserves, 18’s and Juniors. This was the perfect way to get an understanding of the multitude of scenarios that can happen in a game of football. 
303 Senior Games, 4 Senior Grand Finals, 2 different leagues, 7 years as a senior coach and 20 years later, I have decided to hang up the whistle. The question is still the same. Why? Why stop doing something that you love? Well simple, its time. Umpiring is a major commitment. Umpires don’t just turn up 5mins before a game and start umpiring. There is a a major training commitment that starts in November the year before with a long pre season. Up to two nights a week training, regular coaching sessions that go over the multiple rule changes, videos to watch at home with free kick examples, social functions to attend, not to mention for many years umpiring all day Saturday and Sunday (along with Anzac Day, Queens Birthday Fathers Day and Mothers Day). Come finals time you are required to be available both days of the weekend and you won’t know which day you are umpiring until Wednesday night. Last but not least the toll on your body. If I averaged 10kms a senior game, then I have at least clocked up 3000kms (thats over 72 marathons). 
Many umpires have had a longer career than mine, and hats off to them. Its a hard road, but a very rewarding one. Some of my best friends are from umpiring and some of my successes in life I directly attribute to the skills I have learnt in umpiring. However its time to focus on other things. My family deserve my time on the weekends after not having me home for many years, and I look forward to been able to go to the AFL on a Saturday afternoon. 
I will miss umpiring very much, and who knows I may return one day to wave the flags like so many ex Field umpire do. However for now, its time to let others blow that whistle and for me to sit back and reflect on a sport that has given me so much. 
Michael O'Keeffe