The Geelong Falcons-AFL Barwon Umpiring Academy has spawned a statewide initiative following the success and growth of the local program over the past three seasons.
The brainchild of AFL Barwon Director of Umpiring Jock Hillgrove and Geelong Falcons Regional Talent Manager Mick Turner, the Falcons-AFL Barwon Umpire Academy aims to create a direct pathway to higher levels for local umpires, and such has been it’s success that AFL Victoria and the AFL Umpire Department recently announced that local umpiring clubs and all NAB League clubs will now have Community Umpiring Talent Academies throughout Victoria.
“The big thing for AFL Barwon is this is a joint venture between the Falcons and AFL Barwon umpiring, and it has grown in three or four years,” Hillgrove said. “It was never intended to go state wide, but it has now and the AFL now own it and will make it bigger and better. I know Mick Turner and I are very proud of coming together and getting this started. We can look in four and five years and hopefully see it’s grown into something huge. It interconnects country and metropolitan umpiring for the first time ever.”
26 umpires are in the local academy, made up of field, goal and boundary umpires from the Geelong Falcons region, Western Region FNL and AFL Goldfields. The group started pre-season in December under the watchful eye of AFL-listed umpire David Harris, who has also recently begun a traineeship with AFL Barwon.
Hillgrove said creating the “direct link” between community umpires and state league umpires can only be a positive, with academy members ranging from 16 to 23 years of age.
“The umpires then get to mingle with players of a similar age group, and for the small percentage that make it to the top they will make it with the player,” he said. “If they are running out in five years at the MCG a player might say, ‘I remember you from the Falcons Academy’, and that is great for professional development as well.”
The academy umpires- some of whom have already officiated local Grand Finals, will be given first choice for any marquee games in community football following their involvement in the academy. NAB League Under 16 and 18 pre-season competitions will also feature Falcons-AFL Barwon Academy umpires across the disciplines.
“They’re (NAB League matches) pretty much all done by our footy season, so they’ll get some really quality and intense footy before our regular season starts,” Hillgrove explained. “It would be a much higher level than any practice match a footy club could offer I would imagine. We’ve got to expose these young people to these bigger games, if they’re likely to pursue that pathway. We can’t forget the entire umpire group and providing opportunities to them as well.”