Few would understand what it takes to be AFL umpires’ coach.  The rollercoaster pressure and emotions that come with nine games a week. The detailed instruction and feedback (individual and collective), rule changes that must be coached before they can be umpired; in getting 34 umpires on the same page, facing questions and concerns that may not have answers yet.

The challenge is compounded by pressure – on time, and of watching on as moments unfold on game day. Mixed moments of hope, pride, and those that turn a few hairs grey.

Hayden the umpire was, and always will be, greatly admired. As a coach, he has been unwavering in his support and care over a decade. 

He was a passionate educator who wanted to see you be the best version of yourself. Occasionally, this took the form of a spray demanding a greater work rate, teamwork or more consistency. But mostly, he was bubbly, positive and partial to the occasional tear. 

For umpires, the dreaded Monday morning call from the Umpiring Department sent anxiety levels through the roof. Hayden on caller ID wasn’t something you looked forward to – not on a Monday morning. But he endeavoured to cut through the stress, always starting the call with genuine interest in you, as a person, then a light laugh, before launching into business and the conversation you were about to have.

No judgement. Just the reality of consequences and the promise to work through it together – to improve and learn.      

Hayden valued and preached balance in our lives, both professionally and personally. He recognised the importance and value in having a well-rounded football experience. When it was time to work, you worked. But play was vital for great balance, and he encouraged us to enjoy it when you could! He understood the pressures of match day and the important release of post-game socialising. “H” also understood that an umpire could learn just as much debriefing a game with other umpires over a red wine, as they could in a mid-week coaching session. 

Our education took us further afield from the hotel mini bar, with discoveries through the grape varieties of Barcelona, hiking the mountains of Montserrat and visiting the beaches of Normandy. From New York City, spending time with officials from the NBA, NHL and NFL, to London and time with the EPL, building lifelong memories through our leadership development activities.

Beyond a coach, he shared in many personal milestones: births and deaths, engagements, weddings and the occasional divorce. He was there when umpires bought their first homes, through the ups and downs of life, the first there to support or congratulate – that’s just the nature of the guy.

I’ve been lucky to umpire with and be coached by H over the past 22 years. I’m grateful for our time spent together, always challenging me to push myself. For keeping me calm on the bus ride to my first AFL final, or for meeting me in the early mornings for extra bouncing practice and those passionate debates around what constitutes prior opportunity!

I know H has played a huge role in the development of many umpires who are still continuing to grow today. The boundary and goal umpires have recognised and appreciated his willingness to listen, understand and advocate for umpiring. 

The industry – not just umpiring, but football – loses a great soldier in your departure, H.

But this is time to give back to yourself, Maree and the kids (well they were when I first met you) Molly, Harry and Finn. We are grateful to them for letting us have their husband and dad over the last decade as our coach. 

We will miss your passion and enthusiasm for life. But we know they will carry you to great adventures ahead.

Thank you – Hayden Kennedy

By Brett Rosebury (President) on behalf of AFL umpires past and present

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