It is not very often that you come across a man in this day and age who is simply prepared to let his performances do the talking. However, for the past 10 seasons that is exactly what the gentle giant, Justin Bennison has done. He seeks feedback from his coaches, works hard on the training track and then gets the best out of himself in games. Otherwise you just don’t hear too much from him.
The formula works. Justin umpired the 2007 AFL Grand Final, the pinnacle of his career, when he had just 50 AFL games under his belt. Justin was introduced to umpiring by a mate who suggested that he could make some money during winter rather than run the cross-country season. That appealed to Justin who was just sixteen. Justin always said he lacked a little change of pace. His pet events the 400 and 800 metres were becoming a sprint. While he could break 50 seconds for the 400 and 1.58 for the 800 he was sick of finishing eleventh and twelfth in the state titles. Football and boundary umpiring became his passion.
Riddell and Ballarat grand finals in his first couple of years saw him head to the VFL in 2000. Unfortunately he became injury prone in 2000 and 2001 before recovering to get a TAC Cup GF in 2002 with Ian Burrows. A senior VFL GF in 2003 with Rob Haala and little known Steele Irish saw him promoted to the AFL panel in 2004.
When pushed to make a comment about his career Justin recites with a real passion in his voice, “I do it for the challenge to get better. To be inside the fence of the best game in the world, for the adrenaline rush in keeping pace with the game. I love the camaraderie out on the ground, to work hard with your team mates to deliver what is required by our coaches. To come off the ground and know you have given your best……..his voice trails away, I want one more, just one more.” While it goes unsaid, that one more, is another grand final.
Justin loves his family and they are number one in his life. To fit in the other training required to be an elite boundary umpire he can be seen up training at 5am in the morning or after 7.30pm at night when the kids are asleep. In summer he can be seen running, pushing a double stroller with the kids on board to get the kilometres into his legs.
So how do you see yourself as one of the elder statesmen of the group now? “The young blokes call me old dad, but you know over the past ten weeks or so at training they are not so sure,” says Justin with a knowing smile.
He is very pleased Rob Haala finally got that grand final he so richly deserved. “We have a bond now. Only your wedding day and the birth of your children surpasses the moment when that phone call comes telling you that you have been appointed to the grand final.”
Justin rates two past greats Gordon Muir and Glenn Sinclair as the two best boundary umpires he has seen and run with. “They showed the group what training and commitment should be.”
Justin, congratulations on your quiet milestone.