He’s made thousands of decisions in front of thousands of fans, but it’s AFL umpire Shane McInerney’s physical numbers that stand out.
- McInerney will umpire his 496th game tonight, taking out the record
- He says the AFL has taken a positive step towards calling out bad fan behaviour
- He will take the record from head umpiring coach Hayden Kennedy
Over a 26-year career at the top of the game, he’s effectively run across Australia and back.
“We do about 15 kilometres per game. If I reflect over my career I’m getting up to about 7,500 kilometres,” he says.
“No wonder I’m sleeping so well at night.”
McInerney will officiate his record-breaking 496th VFL/AFL game tonight when Geelong faces the Western Bulldogs.
McInerney debuted in 1994, and after a quarter of a century at the game’s highest level, the 48-year-old has seen it all.
“Like any career, there’s been some amazing highs and amazing lows,” he recalls.
He’s umpired two grand finals, and hastily adds with a smile that he “wasn’t far off” a few others.
While umpires rarely win the popularity contest, McInerney believes that while players have adjusted to shifting social standards, crowds have not.
“On-field stuff has improved tremendously well, I [used to be] preoccupied thinking ‘what type of comeback will I have when a player tells me I’m no good, I should be in the bush and I’m rubbish’.”
“I think that what we see on the other side of the fence, I think there is room for change, room for improvement.”
‘No-one expects to be applauded off the ground’
Earlier this season, the AFL issued a warning to a spectator who was removed from Docklands for abusing umpire Mathew Nichols during a match.
The league issued a three-match ban to a Richmond supporter for calling an umpire a “green maggot”.
McInerney believes the league has taken a positive step by calling out poor fan behaviour.
“No-one expects to be applauded off the ground, but when the abuse can be personal, and the abuse can be very directed, that’s an area that needs to be improved.
“Community standards have changed a lot. What you could yell at the footy 15 or 20 years ago, you can’t yell at the footy now.”
Many football fans focus on umpiring mistakes, but McInerney fondly recalls his biggest decision.
Late in a 2009 semi-final between Adelaide and Collingwood, McInerney made a brave call in the final moments of the thrilling match.
His decision to pay a free kick to the Magpies led to a late goal and sent Collingwood to a preliminary final.
“It has been a bit of a rollercoaster, but I don’t think you’d expect anything less over 25 years of football at the highest level,” he says.
Tonight, McInerney will break the record of Hayden Kennedy, who is currently the AFL’s head umpiring coach.