Damien Cusack recently officiated in his 100thAFL game at the Melbourne v Collingwood game at the MCG. It only seems like yesterday that Damien arrived on the AFL scene.
Damien quickly took to AFL level football and was rewarded with the AFL grand final in 2017. Obviously, that has been Damien’s career highlight to date, however he also listed the Preliminary Final between Richmond and GWS with 90,000 screaming Tigers supporters at the MCG as a very close second. His recent milestone game was also something special, especially when he had his family in the room afterwards to celebrate with him.
He has relished the step up to AFL level and says the biggest difference is you’ve got to be switched on at all times. “It’s very easy to get caught behind play if the mind wanders. At AFL level, it’s far less forgiving that it may have been at VFL.” Damien believes his many years of watching football has paid off, as he is particularly proud of his ability to read the play and position himself accordingly.
Damien describes his experience to date as incredible and better than what he could have hoped for. He loves the challenge associated with being a boundary umpire and testing himself each week. “I love running and love football and the challenge for me is not knowing what is going to happen each week, that’s what makes each game so exciting.”
Boundary umpiring also means close interaction with fans. One of the funniest comments Damien can recall when he was warming up with the other three boundary umpires before a St Kilda v Collingwood match. A bloke in the crowd yelled out “Well, you four are clearly virgins.” It was very humorous and original and had all four umpires laughing.
Damien arrived on the AFL scene at an older age than most boundary umpires and believes that whilst he had a pretty high natural fitness level, this didn’t put him in the elite level at the VFL, where he was competing against some really good runners. After chatting with his Dad and older brother, who both had similar elite sporting opportunities, he approached his training in a more professional manner, training much harder and smarter over summer. He looks back now admitting it took longer for him to progress, but now he’s umpiring at AFL level, it is not something he will give up in a hurry. “I guess l am making up for lost time.”
His advice to up and coming umpires is to listen and observe your umpiring colleagues and take on board what you coach says to you, regardless of how bad you may feel from any criticism. He also says you need to give your career a real crack and have fun along the way. He says he watches all the replays of his matches so he can focus on any areas for improvement and learn from the guys he has run with.
Damien prepares for each match in his own unique way. He’s an avid FIFA fan so he tries to squeeze in a game or two on the PS4 during the day to calm any nerves. He doesn’t eat anything within 4 hours of the match and he tries to keep everything as consistent as possible. He admits he always squeezes in ‘Spot the Difference’ from the Footy Record with other boundary umpires before each game.
Congratulations Damien on a fantastic milestone. We wish you continued success for the remainder of the season.