Ali Davey wanted to become an Aussie rules goal umpire because it seemed like an easy job.
Unlike officiating on the field, which requires a fitness level as high as the players, standing between two posts for four quarters looked a bit more, well, leisurely.
“I basically did it because I was too lazy to run anywhere,” 17-year-old Davey said.
“It looked a lot easier when I first started, but you have to learn a lot.
“It can take a lot out of you mentally because while it’s not running, you have to concentrate the whole game.”
In Aussie rules, where there’s a five-point difference between a goal and a behind, a good or bad call from a goal umpire can decide a match. But the correct decision isn’t always obvious.
The chaos of a goal-mouth scramble can incite a dozen doubts.
Did the fingertip of a defender touch the football? Did the kick graze one of the uprights?
“You really have to concentrate hard,” Davey said. “It can be a bit hard. I ususally pace the goals or stretch (to stay focused).
“Some people say commenting the game yourself is a good way to keep the concentration going.
“But you have to move really quickly and you have to make sure you’re sure of your decision, otherwise the players will realise that and pick on you.
“Most of the time they’re pretty good. It’s only when the players come and stand in my face that I feel any pressure.”
But that’s football. Players are there to win and sometimes they see umpires as the biggest impediments to their success. Spectators are often equally derisive, which is why selective hearing can be a goal umpire’s greatest asset.
“In Cairns, you don’t get the biggest crowds behind the goals,” Davey said.
“But they yell at you from over (in the grandstands) and they’ll tell you what they think. “You just have to ignore them when stuff like that happens.”
Davey has umpired at a representative level, recently returning from the National Schools AFL Championships in Darwin.
The pressure was intense at the week-long event, but the extra scrutiny didn’t faze Davey.
“Darwin was great. I absolutely loved it,” Davey said.
“There was a bit of extra pressure, but I had fun. It was a learning experience and there are people there to coach you and help you get better.”
While Davey enjoys performing her duties on game day, it’s the friendships she’s built in Cairns’ Aussie rules community that keep her coming back.
“The people are great,” she said. “They’re really nice and helpful. I do it mostly for the social side of it. “It’s also better than a part-time job and gives you a bit of pocket money.”
During this year’s AFL match between Richmond and the Gold Coast in Cairns, Davey had the opportunity to meet goal umpire Chelsea Roffey, who in 2012 became the first female to officiate at an AFL grand final.
“I got to ask her some questions, which was great,” Davey said.
“I asked her how she got into umpiring and why she kept on going with it. She was very helpful and really inspiring.”
Whether Davey ends up standing at the Punt Road end of the MCG in front of 100,000 fans remains to be seen, but the St Andrew’s Catholic College student is open to the idea.
“I’m kind of not the biggest fan of crowds, but if I made it that far, that would be awesome,” she said.
“I’m definetely going to keep going with it and see how far I can go.”