Thomo believes umpiring is etched into his DNA. “I have spent more time in my life umpiring now than not. I just love it, I am challenged every time I walk out onto a ground.” The passion and enthusiasm in his voice is unbridled.
For better or worse field umpires become the focus of attention in the cauldron of AFL football. Crowds and the media turn on the blokes with the numbers on their backs. They are only interested in boundary umpires when things go awry. Those of us in close proximity to the football have a much better understanding of just how hard they have to work and how passionate they are about their role.
Thomo’s 300 games takes him to the equal seventh position of all time on the number of games by a boundary umpire in the VFL/AFL competition. There are 23 finals and 4 grand finals that form part of those 300 games. When looking at his record 2011 seems to be the standout season. He was the All-Australian boundary umpire, the winner of the AFLUA Murray Williams Shield voted by his peers as the best umpire both on and off field that season and of course he umpired the grand final. “I remember when the season finished I sat back and went ‘wow, what a ride that was!'” Thomo rates consistency as the critical ingredient in any season’s performances. “The more experienced you get you just realise that you may not be the quickest or have the best throw-in but from round 1 to 23 there is no difference week in and week out in your performance. It is delivered to a very high standard.”
Thomo reflected that those standards were set when he was a young 16 year old just making his way onto the SANFL list. “I watched the likes of Mathew Starr and, Darren Shephard who set the bar very high. Our coach, Frank McHugh wouldn’t tolerate poor performances in games or on the track so you learned very quickly what mattered most. Even now Darren Wilson and Jonathan Creasey maintain that standard. I knew that nothing short of a grand final would propel me into that class.
Injuries did take a toll on Thomo and despite running finals in 2006 he struggled with a hamstring tendon injury for most of that season. When it was finished he couldn’t run for five months and resorted to a ‘witch doctor’ to get better. “I had tried everything, I could see my career flash before my eyes and you know what, it wasn’t very fulfilling. I went to see a guy I’d heard about, he bashed my hamstring with a bamboo stick, he belted me black and blue. It worked! Through that period of adversity I changed my methods of training and my approach to pre-season. I often tell young guys now to try something different if things aren’t working. Leave no stone unturned.”
Thomo is very pleased to be walking out onto the Patersons Stadium oval on Saturday with long time mate Justin Schmitt. “Our careers have mirrored each other as we worked our way through the SANFL and now AFL ranks – even the injury toll,” laughed Thomo. What he isn’t looking forward to is running the game. “Two of my hardest games ever have been on this ground. The 2006 Second Semi-final between Fremantle and Melbourne, but the toughest by far, the WCE v Carlton first semi final in 2011. I still remember coming into the preliminary final the following week still very sore from that match. I just had nothing left in the tank. I don’t think any of us did.”
Mark Thomson we salute you.