WITH eight Grand Finals already on his resume, and the strong possibility of a ninth to be added in his final season of 2020, AFL umpire Shaun Ryan's impartiality could never be questioned.
But as he enters the final phase of his career, Ryan has been refreshingly brave enough to reveal there was a split-second moment in his 347-match career where a mistake had given him a natural reason to "barrack" for an outcome.
It was a round eight match in 2011, where that year's Grand Finalists Collingwood and Geelong played at the MCG in round eight, and Ryan had made an uncharacteristic error.
"They had just changed the advantage rule, where the players chose the advantage, not the umpire, and it was a Friday night, it was the biggest home-and-away game possible," Ryan said.
"I remember saying to myself at three-quarter time, 'I don't reckon I've ever umpired better than this'. There was about two minutes to go and I had the play at a boundary throw in, and I paid the free kick to the Collingwood ruckman (Cameron Wood), and Collingwood was behind by three points.
"It was right on the boundary, 45m out. You would never allow advantage, ever, in the previous hundred years of footy. My instinct was to blow time, and give him his set shot and as I've blowed time, I can hear the crowd roar, and I look, and the ball is sailing through the goals.
"I'm like, 'Oh, what has happened here'? Anyway, I had a sneaky look at the screen, and I could see that Scotty Pendlebury had swooped on it and snapped the goal. I thought to myself that if this ruckman doesn't kick this goal, it is going to be a long week.
"The short of it is – we need to be impartial. But I was barracking pretty hard for that kick. He nailed it, he hit it flush, and it was straight to the middle of the goals and I was thinking, 'I've got an out here', but they punched it through right on the goal line.
"It was touched. The siren went 20 seconds later, they lost by two points, and my week was hell.
"And when I said I barracked, I just meant that if he kicked it, there was no damage done. You walk off the ground and you just know that it is going to be a big week."
>> LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW IN THE PLAYER BELOW
Ryan has largely avoided such moments in an AFL career which began in 2003. He has umpired Grand Finals in 2008, 2009, 2010 (both games), 2011, 2017, 2018 and 2019. The gap between 2011 and 2017 for him was due to his retirement after 2011, before making a comeback in 2015.
"It's hard to rate them but 2010, because firstly there will never be another draw and secondly, when that siren went, the moment it went, the silence of 100,000 people was quite incredible," Ryan said.
"The Dom Sheed goal (in 2018), you just knew this was the last chance for West Coast, and you knew when he was coming in he was either going to win or lose the game with that kick, and for him to slot that goal was a very special moment.
"The '09 one sticks in my memory as the toughest game. It was a really brutal game. At the time, it was the by-far most number of tackles, the players really cracked in. There were a lot of special moments in that game, too. The toe-poke. I've been really fortunate to be involved in some amazing games."
Ryan, a barrister, found himself in all the high points of action of the 2010 drawn Grand Final – the Brendon Goddard mark, the Stephen Milne near-miss at snaring a loose ball late in the game, and the final siren.
He said his retirement plans of 2020 will not be revisited, as happened with his 2011 ones.
0.28min - His first retirement in 2011, and the personal and professional benefits of it
1.58 – How he personally judges himself as an umpire
2.40 – Dealing with the inevitable abuse
3.44 – His other profession, a barrister, his family life, and triathlons
4.18 – Ranking the Grand Finals, with 2010 narrowly coming in at his No.1
5.34 – Being involved in ALL the key moments of the 2010 GF
8.24 – Recollection of a howler, and how that mistake caused him to "barrack"
11.34 – Having the best seat in the house, yet not always being able to appreciate it at the time
12.50 – Moments and memories of games
13.50 – The 2010 drawn GF, the toe-poke moment (2009), the Milne bounce (2010), the Goddard mark (2010), the Pickett Pirouette (2019)
15.04 – Reveals his “favourite” player