The good news for Queenslanders realising their AFL dreams just keeps on coming, except this time, it’s from a different side of the game.
Alex Whetton, a 20 year old who has been umpiring throughout Queensland for the last nine years, has been selected as a Rookie AFL Field Umpire for 2016.
Being on an AFL rookie list as an umpire means that Whetton will sit on the bench as the emergency umpire in some of the AFL games in Queensland, will have access to all the development tools AFL umpires have, and will review games with the AFL umpiring panel, but will still work closely with the state group, umpiring the NEAFL on weekends.
For Whetton, his journey with the whistle started out at Graham Road.
“I started club umpiring with the Aspley Hornets in 2007, while I was still playing. I moved up into the Brisbane Juniors a year later. I made the decision at the end of 2009, after just finishing my under 14’s season to stop playing and focus on umpiring,” Whetton said.
“I was never the most gifted or talented footballer. I started to then pick up some rep appointments and get a few awards, so I thought to myself that there might be a career here.”
The decision to focus on umpiring paid immediate dividends.
“In 2012 I got to do the National Under 16 Division 1 grand final, and was able to tour South Africa with the national side,” he said.
“Cameron Nash, the state manager at the time, then asked me to trial for the NEAFL panel in the pre-season of 2012/13, so I was still only 17 at the time.”
It didn’t take long for the trial to turn into an appointment.
“I made the list and debuted in round 2 of 2013. After three years on the panel I’ve had 45 games and a grand final,” Whetton said.
Before you even factor in the AFL selection, 2015 was a standout for Whetton. He was included in the AIS umpiring program, and was selected to umpire the NEAFL grand final up in Darwin.
The AIS program was the first step towards the big time.
“Adam Davis, the National Development Manager, nominated people. It was fantastic to get the opportunity to be a part of that this year, because it just takes everything to the elite level. All that one per cent stuff – your nutrition, recovery, gym work – it just takes it that little bit more in depth, and you get that realisation of what an elite athlete does,” he said.
Then came the grand final; a trip to Darwin in front of around 6,000 screaming fans.
“Having it up in Darwin was massive, in front a massive crowd. We are very much the same as players, except we don’t rev ourselves up before a game. You sit there before the bounce, look at the countdown clock, listen to the crowd, and it does tingle your spine,” Whetton said.
Last Friday was when the phone call came. A phone call that would see another Queensland umpire enter the national scene.
“As soon as I heard it was Hayden Kennedy, you think okay I know what this call is about. The heart rate went up, and I pretty much said yes before he even asked me,” he said.
“It was fantastic to get that call, this year has been fantastic already, but it really topped it off.”
While Whetton’s on field ability in the green shirt is what has gotten him through the system, there are also a few people he couldn’t have done it without.
“My parents first and foremost, because without their backing you don’t go very far. It’s things like trips to games, the right food on your plate, they have helped me endlessly,” he said.
“The people who took me through junior footy, Aaron Hall and Cherie Brockwell, Cameron Nash who gave me the chance to trial. Even the senior guys in the group, who have given me a lot of advice and tips, I owe them all a lot.”
Despite the accolades, the games he has officiated and the sites he has seen, there’s one thing about umpiring he loves the most.
“What people don’t know is that we are so much like a footy club. We have guys we look up to. We train as a group, we run as a group, having that football atmosphere and vibe is awesome,” Whetton said.
As curtains are called on 2015, Whetton has his eyes firmly set on what the next few years may hold.
“You always want to get to the AFL. That’s why I do what I do. The group is the fantastic drive that keeps you going, but the ultimate goal is to get to the AFL.”
Keep an eye out for Alex at Metricon Stadium and the Gabba this year, and for many years to come.
By Andrew Wiles