Gavin Dore

In 2004 Gavin Dore notched up 300 AFL matches in a career that began way back in 1986 and has seen some interruptions. In fact, when quizzed about whether achieving 300 was always going to be possible, Gavin replies, “Injuries have cost me about 80 games over the past 20 years. But, thanks to the great work of our physios, I’ve bounced back — excuse the pun!”

Gavin joined the West Gippsland Umpires’ Association in 1979, aged 18, and moved to the VFL Reserve Grade three years later. He was promoted to the senior list in 1984 and, after a number of matches in both the VFL Reserve Grade and at various country centres, debuted in the VFL in 1986. His first VFL match was part of round six and featured Fitzroy and Richmond. By season’s end, Gavin had umpired eight more senior matches.

The following season built on this success and Gavin umpired twenty-two home and away matches. That year’s Qualifying Final was notable for Warwick Capper’s 100th goal for Sydney, Hawthorn’s ninety-nine point victory, and it was also the match in which Gavin made his finals’ debut. The future looked extremely promising until an arm injury over the summer shattered any hopes of umpiring for an extended period. In fact, it was 1990 before Gavin would make it back to the newly named Australian Football League seniors.

He was immediately back into the swing of things and, in 1991, came within an ace of the Grand Final after a strong season.

Injury intervened again in 1992. However, another frustrating year out of football was followed by more success in 1993 with an Elimination Final and, from that point on, Gavin went from strength to strength. He umpired finals in 1994 and 1995 and, in.

the AFL’s Centenary Year of 1996, he was appointed to the Centenary Grand Final. It was a landmark year in a number of ways.

“I took 1996 off from work and went back to university to do my Dip Ed. This allowed me to really focus and concentrate on umpiring.” That concentration also included the Presidency of the AFL Umpires’ Association during the year. Now teaching at Rowville Secondary College, the year off work was a good move both on and off the field.

Since the Centenary Grand Final, great form and no injuries have seen Gavin fly through each season accumulating matches at an average of twenty-two per year and, at the same time, accumulate other honours. He had already umpired two State of Origin matches and, with the League’s international exposure, he has benefited from overseas exhibition matches on four occasions, representing his country with distinction on each occasion. In 1993Gavin received AFLUA Life Membership.

A career spanning almost 19 years has many inspirations, and Gavin’s is no different.

“Fellow umpire Rob Schreiber was a great influence when I first began in 1979 at the West Gippsland Umpires Association”, he recalls. “John Sutcliffe and Don Casey on the VFL Reserve Grade; Bill Deller, Jeff Crouch, Kevin Smith, Glenn James and Ian Robinson when I first joined the senior list in 1984; and, since then, David Levens, Rowan Sawers, Peter Schwab and Jeff Gieschen have all had some influence in the later years. Certainly my wife Jenny and the kids, Cameron, Rebecca, Nicholas and Thomas, have been a great support.” That support was really needed last year. With less than ten matches to go to achieve the 300, Gavin was knocked from his bike while out training on the road. The resultant injury set him back for most of the season. When he returned towards the end of the year, he was cruelly injured in Brisbane and the pain of not just the injury but of the frustration of again finishing the year hurt was evident as he sat on the Gabba bench.

To have missed so many matches on account of injury must have been exasperating, but Gavin is philosophical about the vagaries of football and life. When asked about how he has overcome the various obstacles he has faced, Gavin replies: “I work hard on the things that need improvement, seek advice from those who have ‘been there’ and have a full belief in myself and my abilities. Only worry about those things in your control.”

While it is a great personal milestone, completing 300 matches also qualifies field umpires for Life Membership of the AFL. Early last year, Gavin was due to receive this accolade at the season launch when world affairs intruded and the dinner at Federation Square was cancelled as a result of an anticipated anti-war protest.

Nevertheless, the timing of the presentation does not change Gavin’s feelings about the honour.

“It means recognition of a lot of hard work put into the game over a long period of time. It certainly has been a big part of my life.”

Gavin’s pride in his umpiring colleagues is clear. “I do believe the 2004 list is a very close group of guys and that we feed off each other to get the best out of ourselves and the group.” It is a reciprocated feeling summed up by colleague Stuart Wenn: “Gavin has stood the test of time. He is a quiet achiever who is extremely personable and, because of this, is highly regarded by the football community.”

There is no greater recognition for any umpire than to be held in the highest esteem by both colleagues and the game.