Boundary umpire Michael Saunders umpired his 150th AFL game when Sydney took on GWS two weeks ago at the SCG. Michael who has been on the list since 2009 now holds the games record for a NSW based umpire. Michael worked extremely hard to get onto the list and then gain the consistency required to get a game week in and week out. He averages 21 games per season which is an outstanding achievement given Sydney only played at home every second week. “I’ve been lucky not to miss very many games. In the early days you’d umpire one week in Sydney then one in Brisbane or Melbourne until GWS came into the competition where we now umpire every week in Sydney.”

Michael is the veteran of the Sydney group and while he certainly feels that, in the day or two following each game, he enjoys the challenge of running with a younger group. “I enjoy our two nights a week training and the games together, the guys I run with are not just my colleagues, they are my friends and while I continue to enjoy those opportunities I will keep running.”

Michael came onto the AFL list from obscurity in 2009 with a strong running background but without that core of experience around him it took a few years for him to work out how to get the best out of himself from an umpiring sense. “It took me until 2011/12 to figure out a routine that suited me. I had to run all year and do a lot of things right before that consistency of performance came. All of those pieces had to fit together balancing work and life was critical to my success.”

Michael has had many “drivers.” “Once I got onto the list I wanted regular selection. Then it was can I get a final? Once I got a regular final, it was, can I get a grand final? I umpired 2 preliminary finals and at the end of 2012 I sat down and asked myself, what do I have to do to get a grand final? I never trained harder or worked harder during games in my life. I nailed every game and achieved my dream, the 2013 AFL grand final. I wonder how it would’ve sat with me had I not achieved that grand final?”

Michael’s motivation is to do another grand final to replicate that feeling and sense of accomplishment. “Umpiring in Sydney is a different experience. You train with NEAFL and community umpires who all look at what you do and try to emulate that. It drives me to want to get better and get the best out of myself every time I train. I know I am under the microscope every session. It has been very satisfying to me having umpires that I train with come through from the Sydney competitions and make a successful start to their AFL careers, knowing I have played a role in their development.”

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