BFNL player banned for contacting umpire

Editorial: Umpires must be respected at all levels

THE decorated football career of veteran Kyneton midfielder Michael O’Brien is likely to end with a six-game suspension.

O’Brien was last night found guilty and suspended for six matches by the Bendigo Football League tribunal on a report of making contact with an umpire.

O’Brien – who indicated during the 60-minute hearing of his intentions to retire next season – was reported and red-carded for making contact with central umpire Andrew Barker during the Tigers’ 22-point loss to Sandhurst at the Kyneton Showgrounds last Saturday.

In his evidence, Barker said he laid the report after O’Brien made contact with his chest.

The incident happened after Barker paid a free kick for high contact and subsequent 50m penalty against O’Brien.

“He was swearing and carrying on (after the 50m penalty) and pushed me with his chest,” said Barker, who has been umpiring for 22 years.

Barker, who didn’t fall over following the contact, said he was “a bit shaken at the time” and felt threatened and uncomfortable by O’Brien’s actions.

“I felt very uncomfortable. In all my years as an umpire I’ve never felt that way from a player,” Barker said.

O’Brien, who pleaded not guilty, didn’t dispute making contact with his chest to Barker’s chest, but said it was unavoidable.

O’Brien, 32, said Barker was less than one metre away from him when he paid the 50m penalty, and as he set off to run, made contact.

“He was right there... I’m not disputing the contact, but I couldn’t avoid it.”

O’Brien, who admitted to being frustrated at “what was going on” in relation to being tagged, described the force of the contact as 0.2 out of 10.

“We bumped chests ever so slightly,”  O’Brien said.

“As he paid the 50m penalty and I turned to run back, he was literally right there.”

In handing down the guilty verdict and six-match suspension, tribunal chairman Gary Walker described O’Brien’s actions as “somewhat reckless”.

Walker reiterated that umpires are untouchable and without them there would be no game.

“It’s up to us to protect the umpires to make sure this doesn’t happen,” Walker said.

O’Brien, who had Kyneton co-coach Derrick Filo give character evidence, returned to the Tigers this season to help the struggling club.

O’Brien previously played two AFL games with West Coast in 2000, as well as having stints with the Bendigo Pioneers, Coburg, East Perth and Strathmore, where he is a dual premiership player and kicked the winning goal in last year’s two-point grand final win over Oak Park in the Essendon District Football League.

With the suspension, O’Brien will miss Kyneton’s round 18 game against Strathfieldsaye at Flight Centre Park this Saturday.

Other round 18 games this Saturday:

Gisborne v South Bendigo;

Castlemaine v Eaglehawk;

Maryborough v Golden Square;

Kangaroo Flat v Sandhurst.

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