From the six boundary umpires to debut in 2004, there stands just one in 2017. A man who will be only the 12th boundary umpire in history to walk out for 300 AFL matches this weekend. A man who also typifies the utmost professionalism, with a CV to match it: 24 finals, 3 Grand Finals, an International Rules Series and 5 ANZAC day matches. Rob Haala is this man, and this weekend on Saturday afternoon at the MCG in a match between Essendon and Collingwood, Rob joins the 300 club.
Rob started umpiring in 2001 at the Southern Football League because he loved footy and loved running. Rob tells me he didn’t think he was good at either individually, so decided to combine to the two. What a choice in combination it has proved to be. Our very own Peter Kelly (PK) was on hand at the first night of training to guide Rob and has offered continual support and friendship across the journey. Something for which Rob has been very thankful.
From the first night at the Southern Football League, Rob had a big desire to umpire AFL football. In round 4 2004, the persistence and hard work paid off as Rob was appointed to his first AFL match between Melbourne and Port Adelaide at the MCG in front of a crowd of 20,093. Rob remembers running the old three-boundary system with Glenn Gibson and Sam Leslie. “I started on the bench for the first 15 minutes and remember the speed of the ball movement and noise of the crowd. This was at the time of the new stand being built on the interchange side of the MCG.” Since that moment, Rob has umpired through times of change in boundary umpiring and the game itself. Rob believes the challenge stays the same and that being consistent, working hard for every second, and constantly improving fitness has proved to be successful over these times.
Throughout Rob’s elite journey he has enjoyed the friendships the most. “The games are the cherry on top, but the friendships have been key.” In Rob’s 299 matches, he has umpired with John Morris 58 times, Adam Coote 53 times and Ian Burrows 50 times. There is no doubting these three have all had an influence on Rob’s career and are certainly three of his closest friends over the journey. Rob tells me “Ian Burrows was the reason I did my first grand final and grand finals since.” A friendship to last a lifetime. Rob also mentioned some other influential people that have helped him along the journey.
Eric Armstrong – encouraged Rob to give boundary umpiring a go, steering him away from goal umpiring.
Gordon Muir – trained with Rob at AFL level and taught him to give everything in a game and focus on recovery during the week.
Scott Hutton – taught Rob about work rate, reading the play and producing a polished performance. Rob tells me Scott was the best all round umpire in his eyes.
Murray Williams, Andrew Duncan, Ashley Sandison and Simon Leigh – all have coached Rob at the highest level and all have brought time, expertise and generosity to the role.
There have been many career highlights in 299 matches for Rob. A few of them include last year’s Western Bulldogs premiership drought, the 5 ANZAC matches and the WCE v. Carlton final at Subiaco where he ran with Adam Coote, Darren Wilson and Mark Thompson. 300 AFL matches to Rob represents a long commitment, many fun times, a lot of challenges and much sacrifice by his family. Rob attributes recent success to his wife Caitlin and 2 beautiful children, Sebastian and Regina. The love, support and balance they provide is enormous.
On Saturday 2.5 hours before game number 300, Rob will have a yoghurt and a can of coke. A routine he has followed over the journey. When he arrives, this passionate, supportive, hard working man will pull out the Goanna oil, lather up and put together what will be another memorable performance. Rob, we wish you all the best for this amazing milestone and career to date. We look forward to watching you join the 300 club in style and your career that is still to come. I am sure there is still some glitter to add to heritage number 508.
Written by Chris Gordon
AFLUA Marketing & Communication Intern & umpiring friend/colleague.