AFL fans can expect a few head-scratchers and possibly even some downright howlers from the umpires when the premiership season resumes.

But it will be a small price to pay if footy returns in June, as seems increasingly likely.

Leading umpire Ray Chamberlain has warned players won’t be the only ones tentatively feeling their way back into the game after the COVID-19 shutdown.

Strict coronavirus mitigation measures will be in place at AFL clubs, which will likely mean umpires will miss out on a crucial part of their preparation.

“We have our own program but obviously running around witches hats or 34 skinny, weird guys kicking a football isn’t quite the same as AFL footballers,” Chamberlain told SEN radio on Wednesday.

“Our best practice is when we go to club visits.

“We’ll umpire their forward entries or six-on-six drills or stoppage drills, so we’re bouncing the ball with ruckmen and umpiring actual AFL players.

“That’s the best practice, that’s where you iron out all your kinks.”

Chamberlain says officiating in the opening round of a season is hard enough in normal circumstances, as umpires get a handle on the increased pace of home-and-away matches.

The veteran umpire was delighted with his lead into his 2020 season-opener, North Melbourne’s clash with St Kilda at Marvel Stadium, but admits he was still a bit rusty.

“My testing was pretty impressive … but I still stuffed up two holding the balls and missed a trip,” he said.

“So, you can watch as much video as you like but it’s not the real thing so we won’t have, I don’t foresee, that exposure to [AFL clubs].

“We won’t have had those opportunities to go to those training sessions … so there will be a little clunky stuff there that we’ll need to cognitively address.”

Source:  ‘The Age’ – 7 May 2020

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