By Justin Lillecrapp
2018 has been a whirlwind year for AFL field umpire Alex Whetton after being selected on the AFL list in February.
Whetton was an umpiring prodigy from an early age, debuting in the NEAFL at 17.
His first season in the big league was highlighted by his debut in Round 7 at the Gabba, officiating the match between Brisbane Lions and Collingwood Magpies in front of a 21,850-strong crowd including many family and friends.
“To (make my debut) in front of friends and family, on a ground that I grew up aspiring to run on was really exciting.” Whetton told aflq.com.au.
“To do it with Brett Rosebury – someone I looked up to for a long time – and Nathan Williamson, a good mate of mine, was a privilege.”
In Queensland, the pathway to the AFL in umpiring circles is clearer than ever give the continued value of the State Umpiring Academy, which continues to go from strength to strength and with role models like Whetton and AFL rookie umpire pair Andrew Adair and James Strybos. Whetton is confident the current crop of Queensland umpires have the talent to make the AFL.
“I think the group is in a great spot with the calibre of umpires we have got coming through,” Whetton said.
“It is just making it tougher to be on that talent pathway which is going to increase the quality of umpiring in Queensland.”
Whetton umpired 11 matches in his debut season in what was a significant step up from NEAFL football in Queensland.
“The repeat efforts and the intensity in the running was the biggest difference,” he said.
“When you get to AFL footy, it just moves end to end all the time, you are mentally and physically fatigued.
“To have those repeat efforts and then be switched on at the same time is quite challenging.”
Whetton already has an eye to an improved and more consistent 2019 with fitness and durability the two controllable factors Whetton is focusing on in the off season.
“My overall goal is to be the best at the things you can physically control, being the fittest, running the fastest time trial, having good skin folds,” Whetton said.
“Then what happens on match day is a massive variable.
“I want to put myself in the best position each week to do as many games as I can in 2019 and learn as much as I can.”
When asked what advice he would give to developing umpires aspiring to make it to the AFL, Whetton emphasised getting involved in every aspect of umpiring and asking questions of coaches and fellow umpires.
“I would say you need a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out), try and get involved in everything,” Whetton said.
“You talk to so many different people and they all want to umpire AFL footy.
“Not enough people know exactly what that is like, so immerse yourself in the group as much as you can.
“I think you really have to be familiar with who the competition is, who you have to be better than, then understanding and finding out what you have to do to be better than them.”