SINCE taking up the whistle following the end of his AFL career, Jordan Bannister has found umpiring an addictive experience.
Bannister – who last night addressed members of the Bendigo Umpires Association at Weeroona Oval – is in his second year on the AFL umpires panel.
Previously, he played 67 AFL games for Essendon and Carlton between 2001 and 2009, but wanted to maintain an involvement in the game after his career ended.
While still playing, the 30-year-old had shown an interest in umpiring in the later years of his time at Carlton and followed it through once his career ended.
“I started heading into AFL House to meet with Jeff Gieschen (umpires boss) and talk to him about umpiring when I had three years to go at Carlton,” Bannister said yesterday.
“I felt like it was a way to stay involved in the game, but it was another huge challenge.
“I had been playing footy since I was five and it was starting to get a bit repetitive for me, plus I had a lot of injuries.
“So I had a choice when I finished AFL to keep playing footy somewhere else, or take up a new challenge.
“I thought I’d have a go at umpiring expecting to probably quit fairly early.
“I didn’t know what to expect with it, but as soon as you start umpiring it becomes a bit addictive... it’s a fun experience.”
Bannister’s message to those, including former players, thinking about taking up umpiring is to simply give it a go, just like he did three years ago.
“I’d be really encouraging people not to worry about the stigma they may cop from some of their mates in taking up umpiring,” Bannister said.
“Once you try it, you will realise just how fun it is.
“You’re out there controlling the game and it’s still footy.
“If people could try just one game, you’d find they probably wouldn’t turn away from it.
“Getting the whistle and having your first crack at it takes a bit of courage, but it’s really rewarding and enjoyable.”
Bannister worked his way through the umpiring ranks, starting in suburban footy in 2010, stepping up to the VFL in 2011, before joining the AFL panel in 2012.
His first game at AFL level was a memorable one between his former side Essendon and North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium in round one, last year.
The Bombers won by two points when North Melbourne’s Hamish McIntosh missed a set-shot after the siren.
“That was a really ripping game to be part of for my first match,” Bannister said.
As for the unique situation of umpiring former team-mates at the Bombers and Blues, Bannister says he’s treated no different to any other umpire out on the field.
“Once you’re out on the field, the players are so professional and focussed and they really don’t notice who you are,” Bannister said.
“Before the game in the rooms though there might be a bit of banter and fun.”
Bannister umpired 23 games in his debut season last year, including the Geelong-Fremantle semi-final at the MCG.
“The game has definitely sped up since I finished in 2009. Players are playing on so much more these days,” Bannister said.
“As an umpire, you just have to read the game and always be on the move... we’ll pay a free-kick and then be on the move straight away to the next contest.
“We have a theme of always umpiring, so that even if you’re the umpire who is not in control, you’re still umpiring.”
While umpires aren’t full-time, – unlike the players – his weekend job on the AFL stage is never far from Bannister’s mind during the week.
“Physically, I train every day and probably watch up to six games a weekend, as well as review my game,” Bannister said.
“Even though it’s not full-time, the guys are putting in a lot of hours during the week.”
For Bannister – who runs on average 13 to 14kms a game – the biggest challenge he faces as an umpire is maintaining concentration for the full duration of a match.
“If the players turn off for a second or something like that, they could concede a goal, but they then get another opportunity to make up for it at the next contest,” Bannister said.
“But if you’re an umpire, if you make one blunder, the whole crowd is onto you, talkback radio is onto you, so you need to have your concentration for the whole game and have thick skin.
“We all make mistakes, and I’ve made plenty since I took up umpiring and you feel like digging a hole at times, so maintaining concentration is probably the biggest challenge.”
Meanwhile, Bannister hopes his AFL experience that he shared with the BUA last night will help members improve their umpiring.
“Hopefully, it can help them with their development,” Bannister said.
“It’s good to work with local leagues and give something back.
“I’ve had some great opportunities through the AFL, so it’s fantastic to be able to come up to places like Bendigo and share some of my experiences.”
Bannister will umpire the Collingwood-Western Bulldogs game at Etihad Stadium this Sunday in the twilight match.