AFL umpire and former Leongatha local Matt Stevic in action during the 2012 grand final.
IT was a dream 20 years in the making, made possible by hard work, dedication and constant support from a tight family network.
Now former Leongatha lad Matt Stevic has finally reached the pinnacle of his profession after officiating in the AFL grand final.
Returning home to Melbourne yesterday after a quick break overseas, Stevic described the experience as a great honour.
“It was a great privilege to be appointed to umpire in a grand final, and to be one of only three guys in the country to be given the job,” he said.
“As it turned out it was an absolutely unbelievable game of footy that was played in wonderful spirit and went right down to the wire.
“It is definitely the most memorable game that I have been a part of.”
With only points separating the Hawks and Swans in what has been described as one of the best games in AFL finals history, Stevic said he relied on experience and preparation to stay calm in the dying minutes.
“It was a great experience. I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in a number of big games especially in recent years with games such as Anzac Day or Friday night matches where you have crowds of up to 80 or 90,000 people,” he said.
“So it is a familiar environment and you learn to stay calm and focused.
“Thankfully we didn’t need to get involved in the game too much towards the end as the players were playing really great disciplined footy.
“We actually didn’t have that much involvement throughout the whole match because the players did a really great job.”
After receiving the news that he had been appointed as one of three umpires for the big game, Stevic said he attempted to keep the week prior as normal as possible.
“I prepared the way I usually would for any game, looking at the match-ups and things like that but obviously the week was slightly different,” Stevic said.
“We had a big press conference with the media in front of about 900 people and then we had a special dinner on the Thursday night with our coaches.
“The Grand Final Parade on the Friday morning was a fantastic experience; it was really great to be able to be a part of all of that.”
As has been the way throughout his umpiring career, his mum Pam and brother Kane were there to watch his big moment.
“Mum and Kane came down to watch which was great,” he said.
His father and step-brother also travelled from interstate to watch the game.
With youngsters across the region no doubt inspired to pull on the umpire’s uniform after watching Stevic on the big stage, he had a few words of encouragement for them.
“I would encourage all young boys and girls to give umpiring a go. It is a really challenging activity at any level but you get some fantastic rewards that you take away from it,” he said.
“And those experiences are at any level, whether you’re a young girl umpiring junior footy or umpiring the local games.
“To be part of the great game is something really special.”
Now, with the footy season over for another year, Stevic is looking forward to a well-earned break away from the game this off-season.
“I am in my 20th year of umpiring now and this is my ninth season with the AFL.
“It has taken me that long to climb from the bottom of the ladder all the way to the very top,” he said.
“For now I am going to have a break, reflect on the game and just enjoy it for the time being.
“Then I will knuckle down again and try to get super fit and hopefully look to back it up again next year or at least be part of the final series next season.”
With his dream now a reality, Stevic took time to thank his mum for her support over the years.
“I certainly wouldn’t have achieved this dream without the support of my mother and family. I am very thankful for the time and effort that Mum has put in over the years,” he said.
“Also to Alistair Hillis who got me involved in umpiring as a 12 year-old. I would never have been able to reach the pinnacle of our sport if it had not been for his encouragement and support as a young umpire.”