Making the tough decision to stop playing the game he loves in favour of officiating over it, has paid off for Singleton AFL field umpire, Joseph O’Brien. The 19-year-old will be the man in control of the first Australian Football League (AFL) women’s match to be played in New South Wales.
O’Brien will be an integral part of the history making fixture which will see the GWS Giants take on Fremantle at Blacktown International Sports Park this Saturday.
After this match, you may see him again when GWS play Melbourne on Friday, March 3, and on Saturday, March 18 when they head to Manuka Oval at Canberra to square off against the Western Bulldogs.
He says the first two games will be televised on Fox Sports and, the last, on Channel Seven.
The young umpire has been training hard since November after he found out he was in contention for the big gig in September.
This is when the up- and-coming member of the NEAFL (North Eastern Australian Football League) Umpire Development Squad found out he was one of only three from the state to be included on the umpiring panel for the AFL Women's League.
Although this is not surprising after a busy 2016 during which the university student split his time between umpiring in both the local Black Diamond Cup, and in Sydney.
He is also a two time Black Diamond AFL (BDAFL), and Newcastle Central Coast Umpires Association, Umpire of the Year recipient. The physiotherapy student started playing AFL when he was eight-years-old, and as a teenager he made the decision to give umpiring a go.
He cites “loving footy, earning a bit of money, and getting a bit of extra fitness” as the motivating factors behind picking up a whistle.
“There was a two year period where I was umpiring the seniors on a Saturday and playing on a Sunday – that was me for a couple of years,” he says.
But at the end of his junior career he had to decide which way to go. Since then O’Brien has not looked back, after all he has “the best seat in the house”. The pressure of the job doesn’t phase the enthusiastic youngster, who just wants to keep developing his skills in the hope of one day cracking the big time. His ultimate goal - to combine a career in physiotherapy with umpiring at the highest level which would appear to be the perfect fit.
BDAFL umpires coach, Christine Burrows, says O’Brien’s appointment is a just reward for the effort that he has put in.
“Joey [Joseph] has taken his umpiring to a new level in recent years and thoroughly deserves this appointment,” she says.