Ask anyone who has been around a while in AFL umpiring circles and they all nod in agreement, this has been the toughest start to any AFL season in living memory.
Scott Jeffery acknowledged the same after the second night of training in November following a physical session where the guys ran in excess of 15 kilometres. Chris Kamolins said the same thing Tuesday night where they ran six kilometres in a series of short sprints over the course of an hour, in 42 degree heat. But the one thing you won’t hear the group do is complain. They have been physically and mentally challenged but they have relished the opportunity to put their professionalism on the table for all to see and let the new coaching regime know they are a tight and committed group.
Hayden Kennedy (495 games, including 39 finals and 5 grand finals) heads a new group of coaches that include, assistant coaches Bryan Sheehan (363 games, 37 finals and 6 grand finals), Michael Vozzo (281 games, 24 finals and 2 grand finals). Michael Jennings completes the full time coaching roster in Melbourne. Michael umpired 37 games and comes from the VFL where he coached their umpires last year. Steve Keating continues his AFL coaching role in Sydney and a replacement for Cameron Nash is about to be announced in Queensland. Add the experience of new Umpires’ Manager Wayne Campbell, Development Manager Adam Davis, part time player to umpire pathway coach, Scott McLaren and with only a new recruiting person left to appoint, you have the most comprehensively resourced coaching team in the history of VFL/AFL umpiring.
Ex-St.Kilda, Carlton and North Melbourne strength and conditioning coach Peter Mulkearns is the new head of fitness. In an article from The Age written by Peter Hanlon in November 2012, Mulkearns says, “there is one constant in elite sporting success, hard work in the preseason. Continuity of training builds resilience and durability, even in the rehabilitating athlete.” The challenge for Mulkearns is dealing with part-time, older umpires and not young full-time athletes. From the outside he appears to have walked that line very well. Peter has always had a very good eye for knowing when enough is enough and when athletes just need to push through.
Chris Donlon, who craves hard training, has been challenged by the new regime. “Every session has been a challenge and one to tick off when completed. It gives you confidence going into a new season knowing you are prepared and ahead of the curve.”
The five kilometre benchmark fitness test for field umpires was held just prior to Christmas last year. If the results are a reflection of the work completed then 13 of the 24 listed umpires who ran the test bettered their 2013 time. Four recorded personal bests. Of 12 trialing umpires 8 ran sub-18 minutes and Tasmanian umpire Joel Harris recorded the fastest time ever for a field umpire of 16 minutes 21 seconds.
The pre-season continues this weekend when AFL field umpires from all over Australia head to Geelong for three days of physical training and a focus on understanding the decision making requirements for season 2014.
Retired five time grand final umpire, Shaun Ryan will be presented with his AFLUA Honorary Life Membership and Brett Allen, seven grand finals and 37 finals will be inducted as an AFLUA grand final legend.