The most senior umpire in the AFL grand final has mounted a strong defence of the Brownlow Medal voting process ahead of his 10th straight season decider.
Veteran whistleblower Matt Stevic says voting responsibility for the Brownlow should be kept with the umpires to protect the “unique” nature of the award.
The 472-game umpire was selected as one of the four field officials for Saturday alongside fellow veteran Simon Meredith (469 games, seven grand finals) and grand final debutants, 2023 All-Australian umpire Robert Findlay and Hayden Gavine.
Stevic gave a strong response to critics of the umpires’ voting after Brisbane midfielder Lachie Neale claimed a surprise second medal on Monday night.
“I’ve been (umpiring) 20 years, there’s commentary every year about those things, so respectfully, I don’t really take much notice at all,” he said.
“Every game we discuss, we debate and we arrive at three players … we go through a pretty thorough process every game and we do that each and every week.
“We are the only four out there in the heat of battle. It’s a wonderful seat in the house, you don’t get too much chance to just enjoy it, but it’s a unique position.
“So our perspective in that regard is quite unique in terms of what we see and in terms of player impact and that sort of thing … it’s a unique award by us guys.”
Stevic, who officiated the Brisbane v Carlton preliminary final last week, said he would certainly be nervous in the lead-up to the decider despite it being his 11th overall.
“What the boys had to put up with in the prelim down at the ‘G, it’s pretty hard to describe – if you’re at the ground, you get some sense of it, but we certainly hear it,” he said.
AFL football boss Laura Kane said there was no direction to the umpiring team to “put away the whistle” during the finals after a spotlight was shone on several key non-decisions in both preliminary finals.
“There wasn’t anything to call it for … we don’t umpire the game differently at different points in the game,” Kane said.
“Game state, momentum, score lead changes – that’s for the coaches to worry about. We officiate the game the same for every minute.”
Kane, who said the new four-umpire system had produced “really good numbers” on reduced umpire workload in its first season, said it was also helping fast-track the development of the next generation of officials.
“We’ve given opportunities for one more umpire every weekend to develop in every single game, and as you can see with two debutants behind me, it’s terrific for the development of our next wave of umpires,” Kane said.
Once again there were no women on either of the field, boundary or goal teams, for the grand final, but Stevic said the tide was starting to turn.
Goal umpire Chelsea Roffey remains the only woman to officiate in a grand final after she was selected for the 2012 classic between Hawthorn and Sydney.
“I’m sure it will (change). When I started umpiring in 1992, there were no females anywhere in any local footy league,” he said.
“Now we’re seeing, (AFLW umpires) I think 30 per cent are women and so the pathways have opened up enormously at all levels of our game.
“The young girls and women have shown how good they are at the craft, and I’ve got no doubt in the future they’ll follow suit.”