An umpiring career sewn in the state of Tasmania. One hundred and fourteen career AFL matches. Nine years of umpiring at the top flight of Australian Rules football.
Goal umpire Mark Ensbey described his journey as “an absolute blur”, after he recently announced his retirement.
“It’s amazing how fast a career goes by. To look back at nine years – it’s just been an absolute whirlwind,” he noted. “It’s been the most amazing opportunity. Coming from Hobart – not many AFL umpires are from Hobart. So for me, it is a sense of pride that I could get that opportunity from Tasmania.”
After AFL goal umpire Courtney Lai was sidelined with a long-term injury, Mark’s AFL life began with his debut in 2014 (Round 6, Western Bulldogs v Adelaide at the Etihad Stadium). This opening act placed him as the 337th goal umpire to officiate in a VFL/AFL match.
Mark last waved the flags in the goals in Round 21 of the 2022 season – Hawthorn v Gold Coast at the University of Tasmania Stadium. His appointment as an Emergency in Round 23 (Hawthorn v Western Bulldogs) at the same venue would prove to be his final inclusion in an AFL match day panel.
Although retirement plans were not on his immediate radar, and he was looking ahead to the 2023 season, a decision to commit more time and support his family as a full-time carer took precedence.
“In looking back, in my last game, I didn’t know it was going to be my last game. It’s a decision that became clear in the off-season. The more the off-season went on, the more I realised I wanted to be at home for Amanda (Mark’s wife). It’s [about] having time back,” Mark said.
“It’s that family support that drives you, coming back week after week and year after year. It was a difficult decision to give up a career that comes along once in a lifetime. But on the flipside, it was an easy decision to leave footy aside and focus more on Amanda and our home and our family.”
Originating from Queensland, Mark played football in the Southern Queensland Football League. A move to Tasmania saw him step into boundary umpiring, having responded to an advertisement in 2007. But an injury forced him to swap the boundary umpire’s whistle with the goal umpire’s flags.
Mark scaled the goal umpiring ranks in Tasmania quickly, being awarded with three Senior TSL Grand Finals (2010, 2012, 2013), the Tasmania-v-NEAFL state match (2013) and the TSL Colts Grand Final (2011). He briefly served as the President of the TSL Umpires’ Association. Then came his move to the AFL’s greener pastures.
Reflecting on his AFL umpiring memories, he said, “The game of AFL is phenomenal. The opportunity to umpire at AFL is phenomenal. So, to be able [to interact] with like-minded people and turn colleague relationships into lifelong friendships – that’s so rewarding.”
Mark highlighted officiating in the 2019 Anzac Day match at the MCG as his best on-field experience, as Essendon and Collingwood played out a thriller in front of over 92,000 fans. He has also enjoyed celebrating the umpiring milestones of his colleagues both at State and AFL levels, and ranks receiving the first phone call with news of being listed to the AFL panel as another special memory.
Celebrating his own 100th-match milestone at the MCG was another landmark, with his wife Amanda in attendance. Mark partnered with good friends Steven Piperno in the opposite goal and Michael Craig as the Emergency in Round 1 of the 2022 AFL season (Geelong v Essendon).
Acknowledging Mark’s dedication and contribution to umpiring for almost a decade, AFL goal umpire Steven Piperno noted, “To be the only AFL-listed umpire in his state, Mark has shown incredible self-motivation to maintain the standards required, whilst being isolated from the rest of his colleagues.
“His career is unique, given that most of his appointments included a flight and overnight stay away. There’s a mountain of effort that is hidden behind those 114 matches.
“His success has clearly shaped the Tasmanian umpiring pathway, and will provide opportunities for Tasmanian umpires for generations to come.
“Mark is an extremely genuine and authentic person, which made him a pleasure to umpire with. He has always cared for the well-being of others, whilst also bringing a sense of humour and fun to the group.”
Although moving away from the rollercoaster that is AFL football, Mark will be mentoring a couple of umpires in Tasmania for next year, and aims to concentrate more on his photography/videography business as well.
Mark’s message to aspiring AFL umpires is simple: “When it comes to AFL umpiring, you just need to be ready, because that phone call could come at any time. Most people get one chance if they are lucky, and you just have to be ready.”
Congratulations, Mark, on your career, and thank you for your services to umpiring. We wish you the very best going ahead.
Featured Image – Mark Ensbey during the 2022 AFL Round 1 match (Geelong Cats and Essendon Bombers at the MCG). (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos)