Mark’s smile and quiet nature can be quite disarming and belies the real strength of character that lies beneath a warm engaging man. “You never coast in life in anything you do………getting over the line in that January fitness test after spending weeks in hospital, recovering from severe burns and skin grafts gives you an inner strength.”
Mark recounted that fitness test in January when there was nothing left in the tank and only the support of his teammates and his sheer will to get over the line ensured he could umpire footy this year. Mark started the year needing 19 games to get to 300. He is certain about one thing, the unfortunate unavailability Courtney Lai and Darren Mills ensured he got to his milestone this year.
“It was a good day,” reflected Mark. “I was relaxed, Neil McLean made a presentation prior to the game. When the game was over it was nice to reflect that the sacrifices and effort over 19 years was rewarded.”
Pre-seasons, skin folds and time trials are only recent phenomena according to Mark who still remembers back to his first years on the list when after match consisted of pies and long neck bottles of beer. But times have changed and had to, if goal umpires were to keep pace with the speed and professionalism of the game. “Goal umpires are required to be more nimble, alert and have a harder edge if we are to keep pace with the game.”
Mark takes the wearing of communication devices and television cameras in his stride. “The vests certainly keep you warm in the middle of winter out on the MCG,” he laughed.
I was a little surprised that Mark said the most memorable game he was involved in was not one of his two grand finals, it was the 1999 Essendon v Carlton preliminary final when Carlton came from no where and beat the Bombers by one point.
He still believes that apart from Anthony Black, Leigh Keen has had the most influence on his career. “Leigh is very giving by nature and taught me a lot about the art of goal umpiring,” said a thankful Mark.
Mark has umpired around the world including London and China, the only AFL ground he has not umpired on is Skoda Stadium. “AFL football has been very kind to me and afforded me with many opportunities, but I made sure that I was always thoroughly prepared to do whatever was required.”
Mark was leaving nothing to chance……………nor will he in 2014.