By Ant Wingard
Sometimes, it’s difficult to fully grasp the rigours and complexity that comes with umpiring a game of Australian Rules football.
For umpires though, the other side of the fence – playing – is a somewhat familiar realm given many who spend their weekends in the green hail from a playing background.
That transition bears significant truth this week, April 29 through to May 5, as AFL Queensland celebrates the contribution of our umpires through Community Umpire Week.
Lauretta Dowling is among those who have taken up umpiring following a tenured run in Queensland’s playing ranks.
Originally from Cairns, Dowling played 25 games for Centrals Trinity Beach before relocating to Brisbane where she played 22 games for University of Queensland and Wilston Grange in the Bond University QAFLW.
As an accomplished footballer, Dowling represented Queensland four times at the AFLW Division One National Championships before officially retiring following the 2017 season with Grange.
But after a year out in 2018, Dowling recommitted to the football community and this year, joined the umpiring ranks.
“When I was 33, I retired from the top level sort of stuff,” Dowling told aflq.com.au.
“I decided that I couldn’t commit to a team so I thought because I had always been interested in umpiring, I would come across and be an umpire this year.”
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Already, Dowling has emerged as one of the most well-respected umpires in the Bond University QAFLW – the same competition she once played in less than three seasons ago.
As a field umpire, Dowling has officiated three games in the state’s premier female competition as well as a handful of preseason games featuring QAFLW clubs.
Following her lengthy career as a player, the current teacher suggested her motivation for getting involved in the umpiring pathway was to give back to the game in the female space and said the relationships she had built as a player have so far helped her in her new umpiring career.
“I wanted to give back to the game because I had such a great experience as a player and as a coach and now that I’ve retired, I still want to be involved with the game,” she said.
“I’ve been very privileged to be put into the women’s football pathway in Brisbane where I can give back to the game which I really loved playing.
“There was a pretty steep learning curve. Probably some of the advantages of being an ex-player are reading the play, anticipating where the ball is going to move.”
Dowling represents just one of many former players who have joined the umpiring ranks which lends itself to the question – are umpires really that different to players?
This Community Umpiring Round, make sure to show your appreciation to our umpires, because without them, there are no football games.