FOOTY fans often say, if you didn’t notice the umpires, they must have done pretty good job.
And that was certainly the case where Leongatha’s Matt Stevic was concerned, umpiring his 8th AFL Grand Final in unique circumstances at the Gabba in Queensland last Saturday night.
He bounced the ball superbly in the centre, made some crucial decisions well, maintained control throughout and apart from some always controversial “deliberate out” rulings, he handled the occasion like the seasoned pro that he is now.
Alongside him was another cool head in Simon Meredith with first-timer Craig Fleer and the trio performed strongly in sometime slippery, always fierce conditions.
But as big as Saturday’s occasion was, Matt acknowledge during the week that it wasn’t the highlight of his year.
“I feel incredibly privileged to have been part of this year’s AFL Grand Final at the Gabba. This year has been challenging in so many ways but also the most rewarding.
“My wife and I welcomed our first child, daughter, Hazel Rose into the world on the 23rd of March 2020, the same day the AFL season shut down.
“Almost seven months on, having moved to Queensland in early July with my wife and newborn, to get the opportunity to officiate at the 2020 Grand Final is surreal.
“My wife has shown incredible support and love to allow me to do what I do. She’s my rock and along with our families back in Vitoria, they have been incredibly supportive of us in making the last-minute move.”
The match was everything Matt expected it to be “tough, a fantastic spectacle and a huge challenge”.
It was also Matt’s 401st game as a top-flight umpire, a milestone that went almost unnoticed in the whirlwind final series.
But he’s not showing any signs of wavering.
“For as long as I am motivated and still have the discipline and energy that is required to be at the elite level, I hope my umpiring journey continues for a little while yet.”
Uniquely, he was joined by the oldest umpire to officiate at an AFL Grand Final, Simon Meredith at 45 years of age, surely giving Matt at least another five years at the top level.
Matt also paid tribute to the AFL, the players and the whole umpiring team for playing their part in getting the season to an exciting conclusion.
“It’s going to be a year I’ll never forget,” said one of Leongatha’s greatest sporting sons.
Matt usually takes a holiday overseas to unwind at the end of the season but acknowledged there were a couple Queensland retreats that might serve the purpose just as well.
Why 2020 was so special for umpire Matt Stevic