A large number of umpires decide to take up a role in the field, boundary or goals after playing the game but have been struck down with an injury, or the demands of the sport have caught up with them.
For Ireland’s John Enright, his umpiring career coincided with his playing career and he balanced representing his country on top of umpiring footy across Europe until 2013, a feat that takes a lot of commitment to both causes and reflects his passion for the game of Australian football.
Now into his 19th year of being involved with the game, John is one of the leading umpires in the AFL Europe community who regularly travels around the continent to attend various tournaments.
However, his footballing journey began back in 2003 when started playing for the Toronto Dingos in Canada.
“With my GAA background it was easy enough to slot into an Aussie Rules team,” Enright said about the switch between one of Ireland’s main sports and one of Australia’s.
After winning an OAFL premiership with the Dingos, Enright then moved back to Ireland, joining the Leeside Lions and then the Dublin Demons where he had further success winning a premiership in 2008 and captaining them to another flag in 2009.
However, it was involving the former of those two Irish sides that he umpired his first game, in quite dramatic scenes considering the occasion.
Anyone’s first game as an umpire is an experience many people don’t forget quickly, but John’s was even more memorable as it was the 2007 ARFLI Grand Final between the Lions and the South Dublin Swans.
To be asked to be an umpire for the first time during a Grand Final is a big ask, but that didn’t bother John who was enjoying the experience on a big day of football in Ireland.
“I arrived as a spectator then was asked to be the umpire as the assigned umpire didn’t show up… It was a baptism of fire, but I did my best and halfway through the game I realised I was really enjoying myself,” Enright said.
So much so that he was hoping the originally assigned umpire wouldn’t show up as John thought he might have to give back the whistle.
From that day onwards, he started umpiring when available while still playing.
He went on to play at the 2011 International Cup, the 2010 and 2013 European Championships, and the 2012 Euro Cup, representing Ireland, but one of his most memorable moments is with the whistle.
John umpired at the 2016 European Championships in London, and as AFL Europe’s main 18-a-side tournament, it was a big opportunity for John and his fellow umpires.
During that week, AFL umpiring coach Adam Davies attended the event, which included coaching the umpires and John gained a lot from the experience.
“The coaching was brilliant. It was instantly transferable to the pitch where we took what we learned into a competitive environment,” Enright said.
That wasn’t John’s only valuable experience developing his umpiring skills with the best in the business, he was fortunate enough to run with AFL umpire Chris Donlon at the 2017 USAFL National Championships in San Diego, where he was also joined by a couple of other AFL Europe umpires.
Getting the opportunity to run with umpires from the top level of the game is very rare, and an opportunity where John took on as much advice as he could, as this was an opportunity to not just work on decision marking but to learn how to work on positioning, communication and running around the ground to be in the best positions.
“It was a fascinating experience to see the lines [Chris] was running, his knowledge and reading of the game… He was very approachable and was coaching me during the game to help me improve,” Enright said.
Having gone from representing his nation to umpiring with some of the most experienced umpires in the game, John has created memories that he will remember for a long time to come, and hopefully, he will continue to use his experience when umpiring into the future around Europe and wherever else Australian football takes him.