I have been extremely lucky in my time in VFL/AFL football to witness first hand the great umpires in the modern era. Make no mistake about it the dedication and perseverance required to be successful as an umpire is no less challenging than that of a player. While you don’t have the physical challenges of the continual battering player’s take you do have the mental challenges to get it right in a very demanding sport.
Three hundred games is recognised by the AFL as elite for both players and umpires. That magical milestone opens up rewards and recognition many people strive for but only few attain. Four hundred games is even rarer. Four players, Kevin Bartlett (403), Michael Tuck (426), Dustin Fletcher (400) and Brent Harvey (432) are revered superstars of the game. Rowan Sawers (410), Darren Wilson (404), Stephen McBurney (402), Brett Rosebury (410), Hayden Kennedy (495) and Shane McInerney (496) are undeniably in the same class. This weekend Shane McInerney eclipsed a record that has stood since 2011. Hayden Kennedy, current AFL Umpire’s coach handed his title as the games record holder to Shane who umpired his 496th game, when he took to the field in the Western Bulldogs v Geelong game at Marvel Stadium.
For the record Shane made his debut in 1994 at Princess Park in a Carlton v Sydney match. David Parkin coached Carlton, Ron Barassi coached Sydney. Shane has umpired an AFL game at 27 different locations around Australia and in Croke Park in Dublin, but it doesn’t include Shanghai and London where he figured in post season exhibition matches. Shane’s games tally includes 26 finals and the 2004 and 2007 grand finals. The number of father/son combinations he has umpired eclipse that list, with probably the most famous duo being Gary Ablett Snr and Jnr.
Shane has always said, “this is a performance based industry and when I stop performing it will be time to step away.” His media performances this week have been not only a recognition of his amazing resilience and perseverance but an opportunity for the football world to recognise a great umpire and develop a little more understanding of the role they play in the modern game.
In a great gesture by the Western Bulldogs and Geelong Football Clubs both teams lined up at the end of the game and paid a great tribute to Shane’s amazing achievement. I must say it was the first time I have seen Shane humbled and unable to speak.