In round ten of Season Eight of the AFLW, when Geelong trounced Hawthorne at GMHBA stadium, umpiring history was, as ever, quietly being made on the boundary. Trent Bowes would walk off the ground that day as just the second umpire in the history of the competition to reach the milestone of 50 AFLW games. 

For Trent, as with many other umpires and players alike, he was involved with the game at a young age. At just ten years old, he was riding the boundaries of under-eighteens and reserves games in the East Gippsland Football League.

“It’s a family thing actually, my Pa was an umpire. My Dad was a boundary umpire to start off with then he moved into the field. Dad was the coach at East Gippsland umpires.”

“My brother and my mum were umpiring at the same time. We were involved for a few years, and then we moved back to Ballarat at the start of year eight, that’s when things got a bit more serious.”

The move to Ballarat would provide exactly what all talented and aspiring umpires need, a clear pathway for progression. Greater numbers of umpires and a better standard of football—including the V-Line Cup, the premier competition for U/15 country footballers—there was a rich vein of high-quality football for junior umpires to mine and gain experience.

 Trent Bowes, in action during the 2023 AFLW Round 02 match between the Western Bulldogs and the Hawthorn Hawks at Mars Stadium (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos)

In 2015 whilst in year 11 Trent participated in the VFL’s rookie squad. The next year, whilst completing his VCE studies, he would take a major step in his umpiring career by joining the VFL umpiring squad. After missing out on the first season of the AFLW, Trent made the umpiring list in Season 2, which he has been part of since.

As the competitions second most experienced umpire, Trent has watched the woman’s game evolve from the boundary line. In his AFLW career, he’s seen the competition grow from eight teams playing a seven-round competition, to eighteen teams, albeit in a season of just ten home-and-away rounds.

For Trent, the improvements in the Women’s fitness and skills have been of note.

“The players are more developed now than what they were previously, the game’s faster. It’s a whole lot faster than it used to be. There’re still times when you get a lot of turnovers and that type of thing, but what you notice now are aspects of men’s football being brought into the women’s. Whether it’s just the handball chains, or even just getting it out of a stoppage and moving it quickly forward.”

The development of the AFLW hasn’t just created opportunities for female footballers however, as it gives state-league umpires access to a stronger standard of coaching.

“Its nice as a development league. Personally, [access to] the different coaches, this year having the AFL boundary coach as well, it’s nice to create that connection at a higher level.”

When questioned on what he thinks lays ahead for the AFLW, Trent, like others, identifies that the “biggest constraint” is the length of the competition, “in terms of having eighteen teams but only playing ten games.” Whilst the solution should lie in “extending to eighteen games, so all teams play each other once,” he aptly notes that “How they get there, is going to be another question.”

In 2022, Trent’s consistent high-level performances in the AFLW would earn him the title of AFLW Season 7 All Australian Boundary Umpire. For him, the most important factor in maximising performance was, of course, fitness.

“I feel like every year I get a bit fitter. That’s just how the progression is. It might not be much but it’s incremental and you can notice it. It’s definitely the most important thing on the field. You need to get to position and the quicker you get to position the better decision you can make. You’ve got more time to analyse, process, read the play.”

On the 4th November when he umpired his 50th AFLW game, he experienced that same shuddering feeling of time warped that we all get when reaching a milestone or transitioning between identifiable periods of our lives. The feeling that leaves one looking back thinking, ‘that was quick.’

“I was surprised to be honest. I mean they’ve only had between eight and ten games per season, so to hit the 50 milestone… it came quickly. It came quicker than I thought.”

“It’s funny to think I’m already at 50 games. Time flies.”

As for what’s to come, Trent’s goal is clear, to umpire AFL football. Whether he gets there or not, is mostly up to him. But, at just 25, with an AFLW all Australian under his belt, and recent finals appearances, his future looks bright.


Article by Jackson Kerr

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