Never in his wildest dreams did Steve Piperno think he would be officiating his 100th game in the hot humid heat of the Northern Territory in late August, and then finishing the night with a cold beer to cool off at his hotel in Darwin.
But there is very little about this year that is normal. Even though the game never reached any great heights, Steve got to enjoy the night with his two goal umpiring colleagues Dylan Benwell and Matt Dervan, as well as the umpiring crew who made the night a special one for him.
It’s hard to imagine that Steve only joined the AFL list in 2015 and since his debut in the North Melbourne v Brisbane match on 12 April, he has reached his century in less than 5 seasons. His tally includes one Anzac Day clash, 9 finals and 2 AFL grand finals and he has been All Australian on two occasions and Goal Umpire of the Year last year. On average, Steve has umpired a final every 11 games!
An impressive AFL journey so far which Steve admits has been a dream come true. “The thrill and adrenaline that comes from match day will always be a novelty, but it’s also the friendships and laughs along the way that l’ll always cherish.”
Steve’s biggest learning so far is that goal umpiring is always evolving so the goal umpiring group is constantly striving to improve. He believes the group isn’t afraid to continually critique and analyse their performance and make changes to how they approach things.
Steve has experienced a number of enjoyable games to date which include a drawn final that went to extra time in Adelaide (Port Adelaide v West Coast – 2017), Anzac Day 2018, however he admits it is hard to go past the honour of umpiring a grand final and the whole experience that comes with being involved. He admits his career highlight was the 2018 Grand Final. “It was an overwhelming mix of emotions of sadness that the game was over, relief that l had umpired well, and honour to be involved in such a great success.”
COVID 19 has certainly thrown up some challenges for all the umpiring group. For Steve the biggest difference with COVID footy is not being able to rely on the adrenaline that normally comes from the big crowds and therefore needing to create his own energy to stay focused during the game. He admits Hub life has been fun living amongst other umpires and getting to know them on a different level. Whilst he has been able to get some solid table tennis practice in, he laments the lack of equally talented players to keep him challenged.
Steve’s love of goal umpiring started when he was forced to goal umpire a year 10 game during detention. He continues to love the challenge of goal umpiring, “It is such a technical craft where we usually have just seconds to assess and execute, with the expectation that we are in the right spot every time.”
Steve is proud of his composure under pressure and admits he’s even surprised when watching replays of how calm he appears knowing full well what is going through his head at the time. He says it is a skill that as a group, we are so good at, looking confident and in control regardless of how difficult the decision is.
Congratulations Steve on a fantastic journey so far. No doubt there are many more highlights to come!