The ground announcer’s voice boomed across the MCG on Saturday night as the umpires entered the arena “………and congratulations to field umpire Shane McInerney on umpiring his 400th AFL game.”  The scoreboard cameras had focused on him, it was Shane’s moment in the sun where the broader footballing public could recognise a great feat, even grudgingly, by an umpire.  There was barely a ripple of applause or even a derisive comment from a frustrated supporter sitting nearby.

Within the umpiring community and indeed within our AFL clubs, the milestone was met with a much greater appreciation.  Twenty-one years of dedication and commitment to AFL football is certainly an achievement that should be celebrated.  Shane becomes the fourth umpire in the history of the game to achieve the 400 game milestone.   Hayden Kennedy (495), Rowan Sawers, (410) and Stephen McBurney (401) have achieved it before him.  Two players, Michael Tuck (426) and Kevin Bartlett (403) have also achieved that milestone.

Shane 43, spoke at a gathering of family and friends yesterday saying that when he did his first game in 1994 between Carlton and Sydney the last thing he was thinking was how far the journey would take him.  “Let me also make it clear this is not a retirement speech,” stated Shane, which clearly came as no surprise to his captive audience.  Not even a three year transfer in his occupation to Brisbane could hold this man back.  “I stirred the paint and it is where I met my lovely wife Deb, she was putting the labels on the paint tins.”  It was a match made in Taubmans!  

Shane McInerney's familyShane’s sister, Melissa said it best when reflecting on Shane’s achievement, “umpiring and Shane were suited to each other.  He is well planned, methodical, consistent, analytical and determined and they are all of the characteristics suited to become an elite umpire.”  Umpiring colleague and fellow 400 game umpire Stephen McBurney remembered Shane in his younger days, “his tight affro hair do, dress sense and competitive urge were three things that stood Shane out from the group.  The best trait of course was his 4km time trail where he achieved a best time of 12 min 42 sec.

On Saturday night Hayden Kennedy, Wayne Campbell and the other boundary and goal coaches sat in the umpire’s coaching box prior to the game and they were chatting among themselves.  Rod Davies (goal umpire coach) quipped, “I bet he introduces himself to the coin tosser as 400 game umpire Shane McInerney.”  Sure enough Shane walks over to the young girl prior to the toss and you guessed it, like clockwork he introduces himself as Shane McInerney, 400 game umpire!  I can’t believe he left out his two grand finals in ’04 and ’07!

I guess you need to know Shane’s humour.  He is extremely self-effacing and is willing to get a rise out of any situation to break the tension.  Shane’s children Callum and Tarryn were given the opportunity to walk to the centre of the MCG with Shane prior to the game.  Shane wanted them to get a feel for what this great game means to him and to watch, close up his pre-match preparation.  Callum had the added bonus of AFL great Jimmy Bartel wandering over and shaking his hand.  They miss a lot of time with their father while he is away training and on weekends when he can be appointed to a game anywhere in Australia.  It was a great opportunity afforded them by the AFL and one they won’t forget for a long time.

As a young man who grew up in Ballarat, who would think that Shane would travel and umpire in London, New Zealand, Ireland and Shanghai.  The later being his favourite city in the world to visit.  So what did Shane say about those trips?  “What happens on the trip stays on the trip.” He quickly moved on to the next topic of conversation.

Stephen McBurney probably says it best when referring to Shane’s great career to date.  “Shane has demonstrated remarkable resilience throughout an exceptional career.  He is, above all else, and absolutely professional and committed umpire.  Anyone who doubts that only needs to observe Shane’s match day preparation.  Shane is steadfast in his commitment to be the best umpire he can be.  I speak with him on most Mondays.  He invariably asks me to look at one of his decisions.  It struck me that he does this to get an objective opinion, and to seek continuous improvement.  He doesn’t want a popular answer, he demands an honest answer.  Tell me what you really think he always says.  Even in the twilight of his career, he takes enormous pride in his umpiring.  He is determined to get the job done.  While we can all make mistakes under the pressure cooker of AFL games, he has never been guilty of getting the rules wrong.  He adheres steadfastly to the one per-centres.  He does the skills as well as anyone.  For someone who tends to talk a bit off the field, his communication on the field is incredibly succinct, relevant, precise and persuasive.  He never buys into arguments with players, he always maintains his composure and he sets an example of professionalism and accountability that is quite exceptional.  What we admire most about Shane is that he always has your back.  We will also never die wondering what Shane thinks.”

Congratulations Shane.

Shane McInerney and Stephen McBurney