IF YOU THINK IT’S BEEN A DREAM RUN FOR BRETT TO GET TO 503 – THINK AGAIN
The phone calls and messages have been coming thick and fast for Shane McInerney, reminding him that Brett Rosebury will soon claim his record 502 AFL games umpired.
Brett will pass Shane on Friday night when the Western Bulldogs play Richmond at Marvel Stadium.
All the communication has been in good humour, but it’s prompted Shane to reflect on just what an achievement it is and how honoured he’s been to hold the record for the last four years.
“For somebody of Brett’s calibre to be overtaking my games mark I’m at ease with it,” Shane said. “I’m very proud to have had the record and it’s been a highlight of my career. I wish I could have held onto it for a bit longer. I’ve enjoyed the accolades, but records are made to be broken and Brett will set the new mark for others to chase.”
Shane’s tinge of sadness has been eased by the connection he has with the person who’s taking his record.
“I have a great personal relationship with Brett,” Shane said. “He’s been a great confidant and support to me. He’s had an outstanding career and he deserves all the accolades that come his way. His passion for the job and the game and the way he engages other people is a real asset. I don’t know anybody who has a bad word to say about Brett. Despite his great success the tall poppy syndrome has never applied to him.”
Getting on with people has been a hallmark of Brett’s career and his remarkable success.
This week Brett will have the rare air of 503 games on his own.
The achievement has required extraordinary commitment, professionalism and endurance.
There’s also a less tangible element which is equally vital.
“It’s about having a love and a passion for the game and umpiring, appreciating how unique the opportunity is, and enjoying the contacts and network you work in,” Shane said.
“There’s also a lot of adversity over the journey which you have to deal with. It’s easy to get frustrated with the process, the system and selection. When you have a poor game and you read about it and see it on the news, especially now with the attention the game gets, you have to bunker down and push through it.”
One of those early challenges came for Brett in just his ninth game and Shane was umpiring alongside him. It was the infamous Liberatore v Knights clash in round 14, 2000 at the MCG.
2000 – BAPTISM OF FIRE – RICHMOND v WESTERN BULLDOGS, ROUND 14, LIBERATORE V KNIGHT
“Libba got five weeks and Brett got six” Shane joked.
“Towards the end of the game Matthew and Libba came together. You could cut the air with the knife. Brett hung back rather than insert himself into the situation.”
Brett described the match as his first major lesson but also has a difference of opinion with Shane on exactly how things unfolded.
“Shane and I still debate what actually happened and who should have seen it and managed it better,” Brett said.
“As Shane said, Libba got five weeks at the Tribunal and I got six. I went back to the WAFL to work on aspects of management and decision making from that game. I seemed a bit overawed in it. I was doomed when the Sunday morning back page of the Herald-Sun had a pic of Knights, Libba and I with blood everywhere.”
The graphic photo certainly didn’t help Brett’s cause but the umpires coach at the time, Rowan Sawers OAM (406 games 1977-1997), believes Brett should have taken charge.
“The Libba one, I’m sure he learned from that,” Rowan said.
“Players expect you to manage situations and take control. They expect umpires to take control of the game. There are mechanisms, whether it’s communication, paying a free kick, or reporting. As a coach I asked what can we take out of this learning experience to get better? Whether you get dropped, suspended or whatever it’s not different to a player being out of the team. It’s a team of umpires and you select the best at the time. There were lessons along the way, and he learned from those and became a better manager of players and umpires.”
The extended time in the WAFL was tough love. What Rowan liked was Brett’s response. He took the painful experience on board and looked to improve.
“From there he worked on that,” Rowan said. “I don’t think any umpire would go through their career without a few ups and downs and things they need to work on. Brett always wanted to improve, it didn’t matter if he’d umpired one grand final, two or nine. He asked, “What can I do to get better?”
2003 – FIRST FINAL – PORT ADELAIDE v SYDNEY – QUALIFYING FINAL – REX HUNT HELPS BRETT TO A 2ND FINAL
Two years and 45 games later Brett had his first final, the qualifying final between Port Adelaide and the Swans at Footy Park. Hayden Kennedy (495 games 1988 -2011) was alongside Brett for his debut.
“Brett had only been in the AFL for three years and he was umpiring a final, which was some effort,” Hayden said. “Rowan Sawers was his coach at the time; he said Brett was the best up and coming talent he’d seen. Port Adelaide was a hard team to umpire, and the Swans produced a big upset. It was a great game. In the airport lounge after the game Rex Hunt came up to us and pumped us up in front of the coaches and officials. I think Brett was expecting just one final, but he got another the following week, and he was even more nervous. He was all over the place.”
SPEED OFF THE MARK – EXCELLENT ENDURANCE – NOT SO MUCH
Nerves weren’t Brett’s only issue in the early days, endurance was also a problem. As a junior Brett was an elite sprinter. He was such a good 100m and 200m runner he was inducted into the Australian Little Athletics Hall of Fame a decade ago.
That speed off the mark was an asset in the job but the aerobic nature of footy presented a huge hurdle in Brett’s push to join the very best in AFL umpiring.
“It wasn’t easy for him, and he struggled,” former Director of Umpiring Jeff Gieschen said.
“We had to continually drive him to meet the standards. In the mid-2000s when we had 3 umpires the ball flew up and down the ground. It’s not like now when often there are 36 players in one half of the ground and umpires wait for it to come out. He was challenged but we knew his professionalism would prevail. He watched his diet, did his skinfolds, and joined running groups. That work has stood him in good stead.”
2005 STRESS FRACTURE SETBACK
Brett umpired 21 senior games in 2004 but no finals. In a bid to improve his endurance Brett produced a huge pre-season in the lead up to 2005. Unfortunately, the extra workload caused two stress fractures in his feet which restricted him to just one AFL game for the whole of 2005.
In 2006 he had his body back in order and umpired 21 games and a final. 2007 was a breakout year.
“I’d passed the 100-game mark and started to understand how to really umpire this bloody tough game,” Brett said. “I did three finals including my first preliminary final (Port v North 2007). Getting so close made me even more determined to take the next step to a grand final.”
2008 HEARTBREAK – ALL-AUSTRALIAN BUT NO GRAND FINAL
The six-week spell in the WAFL in 2000 was tough but there was an even more bitter for Brett to swallow in 2008.
He had his best season ever and was named the All-Australian umpire at the end of the home and away season. Unfortunately for Brett the rankings start again for the finals and he was marked down for his September performances and found himself out of the grand final.
It was heartbreaking for Brett after effectively being named the best umpire in the AFL only weeks before.
“I was disappointed no doubt but clearly I didn’t deserve the grand final that year,” Brett said. “I just had to learn from those mistakes for the future big games and the next time I umpired finals.”
Jeff Gieschen is convinced the disappointment of missing out on the 2008 grand final was the driving force for Brett over the next decade. “Brett didn’t perform to the level in the finals, and we went with Scott McLaren, Michael Vozzo and Shaun Ryan for the grand final and Brett sat on the bench,” Jeff Gieschen said.
“I know it really hurt Brett, but Rohan and I had to make the call based on the rankings through the finals. It was the making of him. All the chinks in his armour that came out in that finals series he identified and worked on. From then on, he umpired nine grand finals in 13 years. The kick in the tail was the catalyst to round out his game to the excellence he produced so consistently for so long.”
2009 – THE BREAKTHROUGH FOR BRETT’S FIRST GRAND FINAL
Brett’s response was emphatic. In his ninth season after 173 games, he had his first grand final.
The 2009 Geelong v St Kilda clash was an instant classic. The match swung on a magic moment when a toe poke from Matthew Scarlett to Gary Ablett resulted in the match winning goal from Norm Smith Medallist Paul Chapman.
“It rained all pre-game but the stage covered the centre circle, so I was able to take the first bounce and it went straight (Phew),” Brett said.
“Have I enjoyed the grand finals I’ve umpired? I’m not sure, I think I set such high expectations for myself for the perfect performance. I know everyone is watching and everything will be analysed within a centimetre.”
Brett had missed out in 2008 but in 2010 (Collingwood-St Kilda) he had two grand finals in one year. He umpired the Magpies v St Kilda draw and then the replay the following week. The draw turned on a fickle bounce which took the ball away from Stephen Milne for a point. There was little pressure the following week when Collingwood won by 56 points.
Brett was there for another Geelong triumph in 2011 (three in five years) when the Cats prevailed by 38 points over Collingwood.
ROSEBURY AND STEVIC INC.
In 2012 Hawthorn and Sydney produced an epic battle to the end, with Sydney prevailing by 10 points.
It was the first of four grand finals he would officiate with his great mate Matt Stevic. The pair had come a long way since 2004 when Brett gave Matt a lift out to Werribee to umpire a VFL match together. Now they were sharing the biggest stage in the game.
“It was great to be going into battle with Brett,” Matt Stevic said.
“Brett is a very close friend. He’ll laugh at this, but he has gratitude and humility about the job and how much he cares about the role he plays for the sport. His leadership on and off the field sets him apart. In terms of not only driving standards but holding himself accountable. He’s been a leader for all my 20 years in the AFL.”
2013 made it six grand finals in a row for Brett before his run came to an end in 2014. He and Matt were back together in 2015 for their second together. After a sabbatical to Europe in 2016 and a near miss in 2017, Brett and Matt were together again for the epic 2018 decider between Collingwood and West Coast.
2018 WEST COAST v COLLINGWOOD GRAND FINAL – DOM SHEED MATCH WINNER.
The match came down to a thrilling finish and Brett was involved in a critical non-call which resulted in the winning goal to the Eagles Dom Sheed. Some think Magpies defender Brayden Maynard should have been awarded a free kick for a block against Willie Rioli.
“Umpiring is at times down to interpretation and some rules are umpired in grey and are not black and white,” Brett said.
“That non-call I can see both sides of the argument. In the moment and the position on field ‘play on’ was my call and it’s something I’m still comfortable with today based on how the game was umpired that day and how I generally umpire those contests.”
A groin injury cut short Brett’s 2019 campaign before an even greater test was to come in 2020 when the Covid Pandemic crippled the AFL and the country.
As the President of the AFL Umpires’ Association (AFLUA) Brett was thrust into the thick of negotiations.
Matt Stevic believes this was his mate’s finest hour.
“His leadership during the 2020 and 2021 seasons was remarkable,” Matt said. “Not just the umpires but the families and to have us continue our jobs was something I and many others will remember for a long time.”
Brett didn’t umpire any finals in 2020 but takes great satisfaction in the work he did in keeping the game alive in the most difficult of circumstances.
“During the three-month break I would have twice daily calls with Grant Williams (Umpires Boss) and Rob Kerr (AFLUA CEO) planning and renegotiating the CBA and doing our bit for the industry,” Brett said.
“We ended up having 90 umpires and their families relocated to hubs in Queensland and NSW within 48 hours before the covid season commenced. I didn’t do any finals, but it felt like a success to be able to umpire that season, sometimes it was in front of no crowds and others very small. In the end we had a full house at the GABBA for the grand final.”
2021 GRAND FINAL IN PERTH – A SPECIAL ONE FOR BRETT.
2021 was again an enormous challenge with the competition continually moving around the country.
The season ended up in Perth with Brett umpiring his ninth grand final. Twenty years after leaving Perth it had come full circle, he was back home. His dad Ken was there along with his Nan Mavis (AKA Big Nan) who was watching him umpire live for the first time.
“It’s something I will never forget umpiring back in WA where it all began,” Brett said.
“It was a special moment after surviving the year locked down in hotels and just getting out for game day. It was a strange time in our lives. I just feel so fortunate with the success I’ve had in umpiring and it’s something I don’t take for granted. You never know when your last game or last opportunity to umpire a grand final will be.”
The clash between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs at Optus Oval would be his fourth with Matt Stevic.
“This is his greatest legacy,” Matt said.
“To see him to be able to climb the tree again with all the additional distractions he had to deal with, with Rob Kerr (AFLUA CEO). That’s 100 plus umpires and their families going around the country and in and out of lockdowns, the 2021 Grand final was so big in so many ways for Brett.”
Barring a mishap in a week from now the record (503 games) will be Brett’s alone.
“I’m not looking forward to the attention,” Brett said. “I like going about my business on and off the field with minimal fuss, having the spotlight on me is embarrassing. It’s only a number and hopefully I’m remembered more for the person I am and what little part I have played in this amazing game I love. I know once I’m retired, I will cherish the moments and experiences Footy has given me, not the number of games or grand finals.”
ACCOLADES FOR BRETT
“I’ve enjoyed accolades, but records are made to be broken and Brett will set the new mark for others to chase.”
“To reach 500 is an incredible feat. You don’t get to umpire 100 AFL games without being very good at your craft and being able to demonstrate a high level of consistency. You just don’t get there. So, to get to five times that is reflective of somebody who has unbelievable ability at our job.”
“His drive to be the best has been with him always. He still has a curiosity to get better. His honesty in being able to accurately view his own performance and identify where he can get better is another trait. Nobody in this job lasts 24 years without that quality.”
“When you see the name Rosebury alongside your name you know it’s going to be a good time. You know you are going to go well together. It’s a good starting point for your performance. You know you are going to have a good time. You get your work done but you do it with a smile on your face with Brett.”
“The AFL identified Brett early and he’s produced a career which is very special. He’s probably going to be the greatest umpire of all time. Matt Stevic is in that conversation. It’s a big thing for a skinny smartass kid from Armidale in Perth.”
ROWAN SAWERS OAM
“It’s phenomenal. If you look back to when we had one umpire there are a lot who didn’t get 10 games. Under the two-umpire system a lot of guys didn’t get past 25. Under the three-umpire system a lot of guys didn’t get past 50. When you look at the consistency it takes to get to 500, it’s amazing.”
“I couldn’t think of anyone better to pass that milestone that Shane McInerney has. I’m so pleased for him, he’s a really good person, he’s an unbelievably good decision maker and he’s consistent, that’s why he’s survived.”
“Even as a youngster you could sense Brett had leadership ability. He paid his dues. He was 28 when he became All-Australian umpire in 2008. Most umpires don’t come onto the list until they are 28. He had eight years being around the group and he was still young and had a burning ambition and desire to be better.”
“The reason he is so good at it is he is level-headed, sees the bigger picture, has empathy for where umpires are in the scheme of things, and he articulates his thoughts well.”
“His feel for the game is great. He said he would pay a free kick that wasn’t strictly within the rules of the game but was the right free kick to pay. That’s why with a lot of football people he’s one of their favourite umpires.
“He still pays his annual fees for the WA Umpires Association. He has never forgotten where he came from. He respects players and is respected by them. It’s a pleasure to have known him.”
# Article written by Neil Cordy
# Featured image – Brett Rosebury (left) and Shane McInerney (right) (Image – AFLUA archives)