By Ant Wingard @AntWingard
AFL Queensland Academy Umpire, Ryan Villalba, will continue his rapid ascent up the umpiring ranks this weekend with the Mackay product making his senior QAFL debut.
Villalba will officiate the Morningside v Broadbeach showdown at Jack Esplen Oval tomorrow, Saturday July 7, in what is yet another accolade in his short career.
The 19-year-old has progressed through the umpiring ranks quicker than most; something which State Umpiring Manager, James Waldorf, says has been a result of Villalba’s work ethic and continual development as an umpire.
“He has so much raw talent. He’s eager and always gets to training early. We knew he’d be ready to make the leap.” Waldorf said.
When Academy Manager Aaron Hall notified Villalba of his promotion on Tuesday, he was both surprised and humbled.
“I was a bit gobsmacked to be debuting. I didn’t think I’d do it this year but the opportunity is here so I’ll take it,” Villalba told aflq.com.au.
“It took me a little bit to process it to be honest. I’m excited, but still a bit nervous.”
Officiating a senior QAFL game was always a goal for Villalbla.
Having spent the majority of 2018 and 2017 umpiring at QAFL Reserves level, it was the logical next step, however Villalba never knew when the opportunity would arise.
“I was hopeful I was going to make it but I wasn’t sure if it’d be this year or next year.”
“I had Round 10 down originally as my goal but I changed it to Round 15. It’s Round 12 now so I’ve made it!”
Villalba’s umpiring journey began in 2013 as a 14-year-old in Mackay. Roped into running boundary for a senior game, he put his hand up after he found out about the potential rewards of doing so.
“They offered me a pie and a sausage roll to do it,” he said.
“After that, they told me I could get paid so I went and did it.”
But a move to Brisbane ahead of the 2017 was the catalyst for Villalba’s current tenure as an AFL Queensland umpire.
Since moving down, Villalba has joined the State Umpiring Academy and officiated the Under-16 Division 2 Grand Final last season.
Up in Mackay, I was a bit more relaxed about it. Down here, it’s a little bit more serious and there’s a bit more opportunity. That’s when I started taking it a bit more seriously.”
“It’s really good. The vibe around academy is great.”
Among the umpiring fraternity, debuting officials are often gifted the first bounce of the game – a symbol of their progression up the ranks.
Ahead of his debut this weekend, Villalba’s nerves seemed more focused on that moment more than any other.
“I’m just hoping I don’t stuff the first bounce up. Hopefully it goes straight up and down.”